December 30, 2006

Are we having Fund yet?

Dan Drezner, having encountered the giant to-do about my experience inside an exceedingly right-wing Liberty Fund conference, makes some general observations about Liberty Fund conferences:
1) Liberty Fund conferences attract idea geeks -- people who will stay up until 2;00 AM debating the merits and demerits of different ideas. That's kind of the point of these things.

2) I've never encountered any racist attitudes, ideas, or even the benign neglect of these attitudes at these conferences.

3) At these conferences I have, on occasion, encountered a personality type that I suspect gave Althouse the willies -- people so besotted with the positive appeal of an abstract idea that they will argue in its defense against any and all comers. Indeed, they consider this a pleasurable activity. The worst of these lot will pooh-pooh valid counterarguments or appeals to pragmatism as besides the Big Point they are trying to make. Let's call these people True Believers.

4) Give that these are Liberty Fund conferences, I would wager that libertarians comprise a high percentage of True Believers at these functions compared to other ideologies.

5) Despite point (4), True Believers make up a very small minority of overall Liberty Fund attendees. Indeed, with the acknowledgment that modern liberals are probably the least represented group at these functions, the intellectual and professional diversity of these conferences is pretty broad.

6) I'm enough of an idea geek that I'm usually glad that one or two True Believers are in attendance, because it forces me to keep my arguments sharp in a Millian sense of debate.

7) The overwhelmingly predominant personality type in attendance at these functions are Contrarians. Wich [sic], of course, makes consensus pretty much a logical impossibility.
Idea geeks. Okay. Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow.

18 comments:

dearieme said...

But he's discussing intellectuals, not lawyers.

Simon said...

I have to say that Drezner is probably my favorite blogging head; I've loved his contributions, I like his blog, and he's fairly high on my list of "bloggers I'd like to meet."

With that having been said, I think that when you're talking about normative political theory, you have to consider the consequences. So to that extent, I agree with Ann here. But on the other hand, re peeling back veneers, I think that when you're talking about descriptive interpretation, you should be more concerned with getting the right answer, no matter what the consequences. If I were massively in favor of the death penalty, and I believed that it was the backbone of the American criminal justice system without which criminality would flourish, and yet I determined that the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment categorically forbade the death penalty, that's the end of the debate (none of the foregoing is true, of course, but it's the first hypothetical that jumped to mind). If I had been sitting on the Heart of Atlanta court, and after careful consideration, I had determined that the Constitution did not give Congress authority to pass the CRA, it makes no difference to the outcome of the case what he consequences of that determination would be, although I would certainly have filed an op/ed in the New York Times the next day urging that the Constitutiuon be amended to give Congress that authority (although to be clear, I am not suggesting that I think Heart of Atlanta was wrongly decided, and even if it was, I would not overrule it today).

Whether consequentialism has a place depends wholly on whether you're talking about normative or descriptive questions. If the former is at issue, I can't agree with Dan on this - failing to consider consequences is dereliction of intellectual duty.

Anonymous said...

So Althouse geeks have a new euphemism for "having a really bad time". We can say, "That's worse than having dinner with a bunch of Libertarian idea geeks." Or, "I'd rather hang out with Libertarian idea geeks than [insert unpleasant task here]."

GPE said...

"We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow."

Reads like:

"All your base are belong to us"

I like it.

Anonymous said...

Re: Drezner,s #2 2) I've never encountered any racist attitudes, ideas, or even the benign neglect of these attitudes at these conferences.

So I assume this wolf stays under the covers until Little Red Riding Hood shows up and says "But Grandma what big teeth you have."

Anonymous said...

For some reason I think the Transhumanist stuff broke out a little later, things got a little out of hand, and it all went down like this

Poor Ann.

Sanjay said...

My major thought about the conference so far has been, God, Professor Althouse would be the most miserable person in the world at a scientific conference. So I like Drezner's thoughts a lot; this seems like an adequate point for everyone to shrug and say, OK, people talking past people. Possibly some of the people in question being over-academicked types.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

...harsh...mellow.

Marshmallow. Harsh hallow. Marsh hello.

Are we doing spoonerisms again?

Shiloh Pitt!

Ernie Fazio said...

The point is that the grand conservative blogress diva, l'Althouse, has gotten a name for herself on Bloggingheads by jousting with conservatives. One wonders just how much Libertarian/fundamentalist/country club/neocon discussion she could really handle.

Such people do not share l'Althouse view of popular culture, the law, nor, dare I say, politics. Jonah Goldberg, who l'Althouse shamelessly pandered to, still was not to be smitten. He argued against any subtle across the great divide alliance with our Diva. The fundamentalist libertarians were the lesser of two evils. L'Althouse has too many skeletons in her liberal closet to be befriended by the on-line scribe of TNR (Buckley not Peretz).

It is funny how it comes down to where one stands on Iraq. Supporters through 2004 (like l'Althouse if she indeed voted for Bush in 2004) are conservatives by default, while johnny come lately opponents like Josh Marshall (pro-2002; anti-prewar) can be liberal; while semper opponents like Eric Alterman et moi are liberal realists.

Anyway, Dan Drezner defends the Liberty Conference as a polite debating society. Oh by the way, Ann, where do you stand on the Federalist Society? We know you like Federalism, but today Federalism is the last refuge of the liberal. It upholds Massachusetts' stand on Gay Marriage and California's on Global Warming. The problem with Federalism, I think you would agree, is when the states' rights to be defended are indefensible like segregation, gay marriage bans, over the top right to work laws, or mandatory gun possession legislation.

How did it go at the conflab with the NRA types, like Instapundit? Do you think that the 2nd Amendment is inviolable or do you agree with the general proposition that pretty much any state or local anti-gun legislation has been upheld as constitutional? How about a big tax on hand gun amunition comparable to the big taxes on tobacco? Sort of a sin tax don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow.


What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
-Oscar Wilde

The opposite of creativity is cynicism
-Esa Saarinen

It's hard to argue against cynics - they always sound smarter than optimists because they have so much evidence on their side
-Molly Ivins

Cynicism is intellectual dandyism
-George Meredith

A cynic is a man who looks at the world with a monocle in his mind's eye
-Carolyn Wells

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
-H. L. Mencken

A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.
-Sidney J. Harris

The only deadly sin I know is cynicism.
-Henry L. Stimson

It takes a clever man to turn cynic and a wise man to be clever enough not to.
-Fannie Hurst

The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man, and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game.
-Henry Ward Beecher

Every person has the power to make others happy.
Some do it simply by entering a room --
others by leaving the room.
Some individuals leave trails of gloom;
others, trails of joy.
Some leave trails of hate and bitterness;
others, trails of love and harmony.
Some leave trails of cynicism and pessimism;
others trails of faith and optimism.
Some leave trails of criticism and resignation;
others trails of gratitude and hope.
What kind of trails do you leave?
-William Arthur Ward

John Kindley said...

Althouse said: "Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method."

The above sentiment, as well as your end of the conversation at the Liberty Fund dinner that set off this spat with Ron Bailey, seems awful close to giving undue credence to ad hominem forms of argumentation and judgment. It's one thing to want to examine more closely how ideas too blindly adhered to might play out in real life, but another to focus on the suspected (but usually unknowable) motivations and bad faith of the person advancing an idea. This ad hominem focus and "method" seems all too common in legal academia and journalism, and the "instinct" to "peel . . . off" the "veneer on top" of an arguer's "love of this idea" seems closer to an example of this reliance on ad hominem argumentation than the more noble-sounding "puncturing of pretensions." A bad person with bad motivations (and we should always avoid judging a person thusly until the evidence really proves it) can make a good argument, and we should engage the ideas on their own terms.

Kim said...

I disagree with pragmatism as a personal philosophy. Dumping over-arching ideas for point-by-point concretes leaves one debating example after example. Idea people will always have an easier time dealing with difficult issues. Pragmatists will continuously be bombarded by the 'grayness' of everything. This also explains why Ann Althouse cannot be pigeonholed. Pragmatists believe the final result is what should be judged. I prefer to know what the principle is and recognize that there are many fewer occasions where the principle doesn't apply (also known as emergencies or exceptions) than where it does apply.

Anonymous said...

Obviously I wasn't at the conference but are you sure they weren't taking the mick, half the time? Libs enjoy oppositionalism don't they - have a lok at 5thnovember.blogspot.com for UK libs mocking politics.

Smilin' Jack said...

The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

Sounds like (yawn) deconstruction, which even English profs are getting bored with. If you're at a conference to discuss ideas, then it's the idea that matters, not why a particlar person loves it.

Maybe you should try attending a similar conference on the Left. Based on your positions on this blog, I bet you wouldn't get too far into the discussion before you were the one being deconstructed and called a racist. Might give you some perspective.

Kyle said...

So anyway, an interesting parallel between Anne Althouse's Liberty Fund experience and the blogosphere reaction to the death of Saddam.

Jonah Goldberg has suggested that Althouse was thrown off-balance because conservatives see no need for moral posturing and therefore no need to reiterate how much they hate racism even while they fault the ways government took real-life action against racism.

But check out Memeorandum and you'll see endless wingnut posts about how awful liberals are precisely because liberals weren't noisy enough about hating Saddam when he made the big drop. Instead they faulted the Republicans for making a hash of Iraq, the trial, and America's good name (by abetting Saddam back when that seemed like smart realpolitik).

The wingnuts want right-thinking noise. Of course Goldberg's argument was ludicrous from the start, coming as it did from a follower of the guy who played dress-up under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Johnny Nucleo said...

At first, I didn't get what Althouse meant. Now, after lots of dope and booze - and that very ungentlemanly piece by that dude from Reason - I think I get what Althouse meant.

I see it like this: Sometimes idea geeks and eggheads in general forget about human decency and common sense. This doesn't mean they are indecent or lack common sense. It's just that they are such geeks, they sometimes get all Vulcan.

(For the record, I consider Althouse herself to be a bit Vulcan.)

Like most Americans, I am a normal, non-Vulcan, and here is how I think: If some dude is a bully, a hero needs to come in and kick the dude's ass, even if it is bad for the Republic in the long run. Normal Americans think like this because we are romantics at heart and do not like bullies.

It seems - and perhaps I am projecting - that what was so upsetting to Althouse was that there was but perfunctory acknowlegement of the Sin of Racism. There are wrongs, injustices, and then there are Sins. Racism is a Sin. Racism belongs to the realm normal Americans sometimes refer to as Pure Evil.

What I have written may be the intellectual equivalent of balsa wood. But it is true. And you Vulcans know it.

Jarod said...

Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

That sounds like a slippery method of side-stepping the debate.

""Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments." - Sidney Hook

John in Nashville said...

Until this dustup, I had mostly avoided this blog since the brouhaha about Jessica Valenti's tits--our hostess's rhetorical fellating of the Bush/Fudd administration had gotten trite and predictable.

Now I see that Prof. Althouse is wrting gems like "Me, I find true believers strange and -- if they have power -- frightening."

What with that comment coming from one who voted to keep Bush & Co. in office, I am glad to see that the good professor appears to have regained her sense of irony.