Wednesday, 10 February 2010

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"He doesn't share the epistemology of the father!" Take my word for it: you do not want to watch this exchange between Ron Reagan and Pamela Geller. In it, Geller argues that she knows what Reagan Sr. would have thought about Sarah Palin because she agrees with his politics whereas Reagan Jr. does not. Because she agrees with Reagan Sr., she knows him better than his son: Geller: I don't think you can speak for your father, because you—you don't even espouse— Reagan: Pam, did you ever meet my father?She didn't have to. As per the title of this post, her claim is an epistemological one: knowledge acquired via telepathy with dead political allies is superior to knowledge acquired by actually knowing someone. When she declares that Reagan Jr. "doesn't share the epistemology of the father," she's making a strong philosophical claim: because Reagan Jr. believes that knowledge acquired by actually knowing someone is superior to posthumous telepathic communication, Reagan Sr. did not. How does she know this? Her telepathy affords her access to documents unavailable to philosophical rubes: Geller: Did you ever meet the Founding Father? I've read everything he said. She has read the Complete Works of the Founding Father and you didn't even know they existed. Or that he did for that matter. But he did, they do, and she read them all despite never having met him, meaning she knows the Founding Father very well. Because she chose to read the Complete Works instead of communing with the Founding Father telepathically, she must believe that knowledge acquired by reading what someone has written is superior to posthumous telepathic communication. This points to a potential problem for her epistemological position: were Reagan Jr. to read a book written by Reagan Sr., Geller would be forced to claim that knowledge acquired by reading that is supplemented by actually knowing the author is superior to posthumous telepathic communication; but that cannot be true, as she earlier held that knowledge acquire by actually knowing someone was inferior to posthumous telepathic communication. She further complicates matters by asserting that actually knowing someone is a valid means of acquiring knowledge about them so long as that person also agrees with the person he or she knew. Her philosophy must therefore be one that only superficially embraces paradox—or the word "epistemology" is not one Geller actually knows, and she said it because she thought it would make her smart. She failed. Then she doubled down:Geller: You never met [Reagan Sr.] either. You know, you never met him either.Wishing someone was not who they are so they can't know what they know doesn't make for a sound epistemological foundation. It doesn't even make any sense. In all seriousness, she actually is claiming that people who agree with a person are better able to speculate about that person's beliefs than people who merely knew him or her. That, obviously, is nonsense: I'm on the opposite end of the political spectrum from my father, but if you wanted to know what he would think...
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This is how we frame the narrative. The Other Scott already noted Glenn Reynolds's tendentious link and Steven Taylor's pithy rebuttal of its underlying "logic," but I wanted to focus on the quotation from Reynolds's reader in the update, because it points to a fundamental disconnect between the rhetoric of the right and the left: I'm guessing the "she's a socialist" part won't get talked about much in the MSM. But if she had been a conservative it'd lead every evening news cast for two months.The crucial difference between this mass-shooting and other recent ones is that, for example, Nidal Hasan didn't consider himself a liberal, nor did he devote himself to liberal causes—he was, it seems, someone with pretensions to Islamic jihad. Scott Roeder, however, shot George Tiller in the service of a mainstream conservative cause. The difference, obviously, is not in the media's furtherance of a narrative, but in the non-incidental relation of particular ideologies with acts of violence. Conservatives complain 1) when liberals ask that any brown person with a funny name not be labeled a jihadist until evidence of such is unearthed, and 2) when mainstream news outlets link the murder of prominent abortion doctors to conservative causes. They fail to see the lack of equivalence: liberals don't espouse jihad against the United States, but conservatives do inspire those on their fringes to engage in politically motivated violence. The politics of the George Tiller murder are an indictment against conservative rhetoric because that rhetoric made Tiller a target; whereas the personal politics of Amy Bishop are utterly irrelevant in the absence of a vocal and sustained opposition to the existence of the university and the tenure system among liberals. That conservatives are working a false equivalence is made evident by Reynolds's pathological desire to find evidence that will allow him to turn this tragedy into mere political gamesmanship. Unlike his acolyte Althouse, whose affected contrarianism runs so vast and deep she'll write anything if she thinks one rube will do a double-take reading it, Reynolds plays politics to win. He wants to own the narrative, and because his platform trickles up into all the right places, he mostly has a legitimate claim to it. In this case, he hikes over to RateMyProfessor.com—a site that allows angry students to vent anonymously after they receive grades they deserve—and finds a comment in which an undergraduate calls her a "socialist" and before you know it, all the usual suspects are employing "socialist" as an anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier, e.g. "socialist Alabama professor," "socialist serial killer," etc. On the strength, then, of a single comment by an upset undergraduate, conservative hacks are folding socialism into what they imagine her profession to be—be it a professor or a serial killer—in an attempt to create the impression of equivalence between ideology and act where none actually exists. At least not yet. (The day still being young and all.)

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