March 6, 2007

Ron Bailey's aha falls splat.

As long as I'm noting the absurd invocation of my name and since I'm up early this morning and have a few extra minutes on my hands today, let me address this piddling dropping by Ron Bailey on the Reason Magazine blog yesterday:
University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse writes a fascinating New York Times op/ed arguing that we should not let our emotions run away with us when we talk about race.

That's very good advice.
Ron probably thought everybody remembered his big dispute with me back in January and would perceive a stunning revelation of my hypocrisy, but I see "his editor" -- my heartthrob, Nick Gillespie? -- made him add a link to his pissy old tirade so readers could see how deeply the old coot has it in for me.

As you can tell from that pissy tirade, the old coot loves to wallow in the belief that he is smarter and more profound than I am, but, unfortunately, he's not smart and profound enough to perceive that I am not contradicting myself. His aha falls splat.

My January dispute with Bailey was about the way hardcore libertarians are too in love with their abstract principles and sanitize the real context of race out of their analysis. Here is how I responded to Bailey's loutish attack on me back then.

Notice the similarity between what I was saying to Ron and what Professor Kaplan was trying to do in teaching his lesson about how law fails to deal with the way things are in real life. Both what I said and what -- I think -- Kaplan was trying to teach had to do with the way it's not good enough to deal in abstractions and how it's important to engage with how these abstractions play out in real life.

In the NYT column, I say:
Ironically, you have to care enough about engaging energetically with issues of race to run into this sort of trouble. It’s so much easier to skip the subject altogether, to embrace a theory of colorblindness or to scoop out gobs of politically correct pabulum. It’s only when you challenge the students and confront them with something that can be experienced as ugly... that you create the risk that someone may take offense.
Ron Bailey, cocooned inside his abstractions, is the sort of person I am saying takes the easier path. I want for it to be possible to bring in the racial context that challenges the pat abstractions he fawns over himself for believing in.

I don't say it's wrong to bring emotion into a legal discussion. I am crediting Kaplan for not retreating from the things that make people emotional. I have never blamed the students for becoming passionate when he stirred up their emotions. That is a misreading of my column (which the preening Bailey does to accuse me of hypocrisy).

Look closely. I talk about Kaplan's "complicated pedagogical exercise" that "stirr[ed] up difficult emotions" in the students. That doesn't mean the students were wrong to respond on an emotional level. I think he wanted them to have deep feelings about law and society. The breakdown occurred because they didn't bring that passion to the discussion with the teacher but ran to complain to the law school dean -- using the scary phrase "a racially hostile learning environment" -- which led to attempts to cure them of their bad feelings.

My NYT column concludes:
Our question should not be about what we can do to make you comfortable or how we can make your life pleasant again.

We owe our law students respect, but part of that respect is the recognition that they are adults who are spending many thousands of dollars and hours of study trying to acquire the critical thinking and fortitude that will enable them to serve clients and to stand up to adversaries who are only too ready to shake their nerve....
Clearly, I am objecting to those who were afraid of the students' strong emotions and who aimed at restoring comfort and pleasantness. I worried that this fear would chill classroom discussion and cause teachers to retreat into a more abstract, de-contextualized presentation.

The already cold Bailey thinks I have now decided I like the chill. I do not. I think there is something distorted and defective about reason drained of emotion. Or, more accurately, I think there is always emotion in reason, whether you admit it or not. That's why I was asking, back in January, what was that emotion that drove you to cling so hard to those abstractions you love so much. How do I know it isn't hatred?


Mellow-Drama said...

This makes a lot of sense. I think the comments in the "Kaplan explains" post were getting off the rail, falling into a discussion of "emotion belongs in the law" vs. "no it doesn't." Now I understand you to be saying that people have to feel emotion and passion, but can't let those feelings - even when they hurt - stop the discussion of the real-world consequences of passionless policy.

me said...

Rock on Ann. You are exactly right.

Doyle said...

What's beef?
Beef is when you roll no less than thirty deep.
Beef is when your moms ain't safe out in the streets.
Beef is when I see you
Guaranteed to be in ICU, think it through."

Dewave said...

I think you were decidedly in the wrong in the Libertarians-are-all-racists-until-proven-otherwise incident, but that doesn't mean your comments on the Kaplain issue aren't spot on accurate.

Ann Althouse said...

I have never said libertarians are all racists until proven otherwise. I said there is emotion behind political and philosophical commitments and I want to hear it discussed if we are to have a very long conversation about your political and philosophical commitments. If you insist on staying at the abstract level and persist in adhering rigidly to ideas that in the real world were used to support racist policies, I am going insist on letting you know that from the outside you are behaving in the same way that a sophisticated racist would. If you still don't want to talk about that, I will find you an unworthy conversationalist.

David said...

Ron protests too much. He also hides behind some big names in literary history as if the light of association will shine on him also.

He is an effete snob who is not about to be upstaged by the likes of a female law professor. Does he still live with his mother?

He is a reverse racist who feels guilty for being white and finds succor in promoting various multi-cultural victims inhabiting our country. I observe this type of behaviour from time to time. The pathology of their victimhood is too traumatic and personal for the rest of us to understand, much less talk about.

Fortunately, some states are throwing out the racial quotas that brought in less qualified individuals at the expense of more qualified (read: white) applicants. Now we have the question thrown out as to whether Obama is black enough to get the black vote.

Talk about hypocrisy! If I were Ann I would eschew smug cocktail and dinner parties that serve up a tired trail mix of politically correct "pabulum" that reeks of pachouli. "Pissy old tirade" lends a dignity to this CO2 polluter he doesn't deserve. Next time ask him to deposit $20 dollars into the Gore carbon emissions pot as he atones for gratuitously contributing to global warming.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann's Ode to Emotion In Reason, or How Do I Detest Him, Let Me Count the Ways (and Adjectives ...) (best read with a rising and emphatic tone):

"piddling droppings"
"stunning revelation"
"pissy old tirade"
"old coot"
"pissy tirade"
"falls splat"
"engaging energetically"
"scoop out gobs"
"experienced as ugly"
"fawns over himself"
"pat abstractions"
"the preening Bailey"
"have deep feelings"
"difficult emotions"
"the scary phrase"
"the already cold Bailey"
"How do I know it isn't hatred?"

CB said...

Ron and his ilk are just smug and clueless internet nerds--people with too much education and no social skills. They're the kind of people who would get in flamewars about whether Captain Kirk was better than Captain Picard and take it completely seriously. Hit & Run is Fark without the sense of humor.

Maxine Weiss said...

All these fake disputes and contrived imbroglios...

...cruising for the next fued.

This is how you build readers in the Blogosphere.

This is how Althouse does it.

Don't fault enterprise, I guess.

Peace, Maxine

Eddie said...

"That's why I was asking, back in January, what was that emotion that drove you to cling so hard to those abstractions you love so much. How do I know it isn't hatred?"

I don't care for the abstractions of the true-believing libertarians either, but I think the problem here is that you don't really believe that racism is the emotional source of this clinging, and neither do I or most anyone else. What we believe to be the source is a kind of intellectual curiosity and love of model-building that is insufficiently sensitive to the lives of actual people. Am I wrong about what you really believe to be the case?

It seems to me that you played the race card to force these folks to confront their insensitivity, but playing the race card is impolite and over-the-top if you don't really believe that racism is the issue. It is impolite because how does one prove that one is not a racist? I think you chose a poor strategy to attack a real problem and have unfortunatetly given these folks a legitimate way out of dealing with your concern.

Howard said...

As a person in a management position, I have had to deal with this phony "you hurt my feelings" crap starting about ten years ago when it seemed that every non-white male had his or hers or its, feelings hurt over every grain of sand. I figured out two things: I'd start every meeting by informing everyone that "this is not a feel good business." I'd then deliberately say provocative things and stare them down. But I learned that the charge of racism can be made over the interaction between two Vikings if one applies the now fashionable rule of "deconstruction." So it is obvious that we have people who are looking for a beef, an excuse, a platform for their own racist views. Ann, there ain't nothing you can do about it because people don't want to listen to you. It's the times, and if you are in a position from which you can be fired, you have to go along with the idiots. In my case I'm immune so I'm lucky.

Bo Steed said...

Easy for us, The Commentarriet, to say.

I wonder how some of the geniuses so willing to fly speck each and every one of Professor Althouse's words would do under similiar pressure and second guessing. Given their skittishness to criticisms in the comments sections of these posts, not so well I would guess.

It is an empirical fact that many libertarians and/or objectivists (most libertarians are objectivists in sheep's clothing) are prone to rationalism, and have a fetish for their abstractions.

If you don't believe my point about rationalism, ask a libertarian friend how one might finance a "free society." Once the throat clearing stops, and as soon as you hear something about a mythic lottery, my point will have been proven.

MD said...

Pissy tirade? Old coot?

Dr. Althouse, like many an interesting and successful blogger, you have your blind spots. Interesting phenomenon.

MD said...

You know, you never really addressed the point that he wasn't hiding behind abstractions, as I see it third hand from the two accounts. He said federal intervention was necessary to stop segregation, so how is he hiding behind his 'big idea'?

rsb said...

First I read "Althousian" and now I read "Althouseishness". I bet the next one will be "Althousism".

Mellow-Drama said...

CB, come on and be serious. Everyone knows Picard was better.

Smilin' Jack said...

... I am going insist on letting you know that from the outside you are behaving in the same way that a sophisticated racist would.

Sophisticated racists breathe. Are you going to stop breathing to prove you're not a sophisticated racist, or are you going to keep breathing because you are one?

AlphaLiberal said...

Given that Ann Althouse routinely peddles falsehoods from the Right against Democrats in her blog, she is no-one who should be giving lectures about accuracy, emotions or anything involving morals or principles.

Daryl Herbert said...

MD: He said federal intervention was necessary to stop segregation, so how is he hiding behind his 'big idea'?

I'll try to summarize the main points of contention, all of which you can find on this thread. If you're interested in digging deeper, I've given you some starting points.

First, there are two kinds of discrimination, discrimination mandated by state law, and private discrimination (businesses can choose for themselves whether they want to discriminate against blacks).

Bailey eventually came down against state-mandated discrimination.

About this, Ann wrote: "Again, note that he was only opposing 'state-sanctioned racial segregation' and only because it was 'so egregious' a violation. And apparently, it took a big one-and-a-half-hour fight even to get through that point! I'm trying to convey to you readers just how retrograde things were here."

When Ann wanted to talk about the other kind of segregation, Bailey kept changing the subject back to state-mandated segregation.

Ann was responding to that when she wrote: "Again with the "state-sanctioned"! That isn't the point. This is so obtuse!"

Second, with regard to the abstractions: Ann was trying to talk to people at her table at dinner about the downsides of allowing businesses to discriminate by race. Instead of engaging her in intelligent conversation, they insisted on bringing up a bunch of dumb hypotheticals involving Klan members--as if voluntary membership in a terrorist organization is in any way comparable to being born with black skin!

But don't trust me. Here's what Bailey said: "In trying to explain to Althouse why private discrimination might be OK, I later pieced together that my tablemates had posed the question of whether or not Althouse would want to have the right to refuse to serve KKK members if she owned a restaurant--say, the KKK members were planning to have a weekly luncheon meeting at her cafe? My interpretation of what happened is that because she didn't want to appear to be hypocrite, she refused to answer and kept asking more and more abstract questions about their example. When she was backed into a corner, she lashed out, suggesting that people who disagreed with her feelings were racists."

Third, Ann wrote:

[Bailey] was brusque and didn't seem at ease chatting over cocktails. Think about it. You're a middle-aged man, meeting a woman for the first time, having a drink, and she reveals some little fact about herself. What do you do? Smile and reveal some little thing about yourself and make connections? Or do you grunt a few syllables and decide she's a lightweight?

To which Bailey responded:

BTW, your ad hominem, "Think about it. You're a middle-aged man, meeting a woman for the first time, having a drink" implying that if I'm not racist, that I may be anti-feminist. Priceless.

At which point I jumped in:

I read it as an implication that your social skills are as bad as mine.

That you fail to recognize the implication for what it is suggests your social skills may be worse than mine.

Which doesn't really have anything to do with your question, but if I'm going to dig things up from that thread, that comment is going to be one of them.

Homer said...

seems like such a long winded post in response to a measly paragraph

the anger and frustration must run deep!

giles said...

Amidst the he-said and she-said, accusations of over-emotionalism and crypto-racism, what I'm really interested in is: What did Cheney know?

MD said...

Daryl Hebert: thanks for the summary. I see that I didn't delve deeply enough into the questions being debated, although surely there are better ways to respond than use the language used in the post?

Joan said...

I always thought the expression was "falls flat," short for "falls flat on his face" or something like that. "Falls splat" has a nice cartoony quality that is appropriate here, but I'd probably punctuate it differently: falls, splat!

Ann Althouse said...

Joan: I deliberately used the less common expression for effect. Also, it means something different.

Dewave said...

I am going insist on letting you know that from the outside you are behaving in the same way that a sophisticated racist would.

And how does this relate to your insisting that they prove to you that they weren't racists?

Surely a sophisticated racist would deny that he is a racist. Is their denial of being racist simply yet more proof that they are very sophisticated racists indeed?

Ann Althouse said...

Dewave: Think harder. I'm a law professor. I've asked a kickass lawprof question.