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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Two Cultures?

Posted by John Holbo on 05/28/06 at 11:27 AM

Something inside Adam Kotsko broke, in response to the strain of this - admittedly completely absurd - J&B thread. So I can sympathize with the spirit. Still, I have to say the words don’t make any sense to me. I’m tempted to say that what Adam is groping for is the (surely self-evident) truth that Socrates would have been a great blogger and Hegel would have been just terrible at it. (He would have had a comment policy that read something like: you are not allowed to leave any comments until I have written my last post, in the light of which you will see that your objections to my earlier posts were mistaken.) What Adam actually says is that there are certain things “that cannot be profitably done on a blog”, and that the main one is: making arguments.

Once a conversation devolves into a quest for rock-solid arguments or evidence, it becomes abusive - of the blog-form, and of the participants. A conversation that becomes a quasi-debate - always “quasi” because it cannot really be pulled off in a satisfactory way - tends inevitably toward the point where someone, in order to prove his (and let’s be honest, usually “his") point, will have to do some serious extra-blogospheric work. Either he does it, and proves himself to be an idiot (objectively speaking - who writes a dissertation to win a bar bet?), or else he doesn’t, and his opponents get to gloat over his failure to provide evidence for his statements.

But surely blogs are fine for making arguments. They’re great for it, in fact. Much possibility for negotiating one’s position. Give and take. Blog posts are short, but obviously no one thinks there are no arguments worth making at less than a thousand words. Many arguments are best if constructed and negotiated out of post-sized bits and pieces. And there are, as well, long posts, if you care to write them. I think what Adam is really saying - which his hint that quests for evidence are just ‘devolved’ conversations suggests - is that he doesn’t WANT to be making arguments of a certain sort. Which is perfectly understandable. Not because he’s a big girl’s blouse (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) when it comes to exhibiting the manly virtues of kicking the other fellow’s argument when it’s down. Rather, because he wants a certain sort of conversation. So he doesn’t like it when the conversation takes a certain sort of turn. But that’s no reason to go and say it is a wrong turn, much less to wishfully construe the turn as some sort of sheer impossibility for the form. Also, I think this must be very wrong, whatever one’s point of view: “When one’s intellectual project becomes involved in any serious way, the intellectual project on which one’s career depends, then conversation simply cannot profitably happen anymore.” Man, that’s just not healthy. Also, I think it’s important to admit that neither side is more competitive, or prideful, or careerist than the other. That’s not the relevant axis of difference.

I’m serious about the Hegel point, more or less. But it probably needs development. I’ve been far too busy making lovely little slideshows of old cartoons for Crooked Timber.


Comments

My point becomes clearer in the comments to that thread.  It may still be wrong, of course.  It’s just that if anyone is going to follow the link to my post, I’d recommend that they read the comments.

I’ve always been mystified by this word “argument,” at least as it is used among Valve contributors.  The ways it is used never cease to amaze me.  At times it seems to be such a narrow and limited category—at other times, the simplest thing in the world, which we are constantly doing.

By Adam Kotsko on 05/28/06 at 08:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam, surely the usage that mystifies you - if it does - is broader than that. If my use mystifies you, then much (perhaps most) talk of ‘arguments’ in the whole history of philosophy must be a closed book to you. But surely it is not. My point being: there is a style of intellectual approach that you prefer not to engage in, at least on some occasions. This is perfectly understandable. But that’s not really a sufficient justification for regarding a preference for a different approach, at least on some occasions, as a ‘category error’.

To put it another way, your post really ought to have the title ‘on the socratic tradition in philosophy: a diagnosis’. That changes the scope and the stakes a bit. And my point isn’t to hereby construct a reductio ad absurdum. To the contrary, many people regard any sort of socratic-style investigation as passive-aggressive uselessness. What’s the point of taking little claims and worrying them in ways their authors didn’t want them to be worried? I am quite sympathetic, actually. This is especially true when the thing in question is some still tender growth you don’t want beaten to death prematurely. It is also true when you want to have a conversation among like-minded people. You want to talk about some author with a group of people who will not be disposed to be remorselessly skeptical, because you want to preserve a positive, constructive conversational mood. Still, there is something to be said for the value of the more severe socratism, at least on occasion.

By John Holbo on 05/28/06 at 10:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It occurs to me you are going to say that you want to save the more severe ‘socratic’ criticism for the ‘serious’ academic stuff - journal articles and such. But I don’t really think that makes sense either. But, to be a generous as I can, I do think it makes sense for you - for everyone - to preserve a sort of space in which they can put out tentative stuff without having it clubbed too aggressively. But it isn’t just ‘conversationalists’ who have their stuff messed up by socratics who wander in and kick the table over. It goes the other way, too. If you want to have a serious debate, and a critical mass of participants really aren’t willing to argue, then you end up with a different sort of mess. So when things go wrong, there is really no call to blame one side only. It’s a clash of styles.

By John Holbo on 05/28/06 at 10:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Last but not least, it’s very important to realize that there are whole groups of people - in philosophy departments, for example - where a kind of severe socratism is experienced as sociable and friendly. Telling someone that the fundamental premise of her paper makes no sense is not taken as an aggressive attempt to shame. It’s par for the course for people to tell each other their fundamental premises are wrong, in rather blunt terms, so you don’t risk losing face. (This is a very broad sociological observation, and needs more development.)

By John Holbo on 05/28/06 at 10:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Did you read the comment thread in which I said that I clarified my point?  Because a lot of the things you are attempting to anticipate seem to me to have been hashed out fairly decently in the exchange between me and Jodi Dean.

I’m all for seriousness and even for argument—after all, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to persuade people of certain things.

For the category error point, I’ll clarify a bit on the story of the asshole guy from DePaul.  We were talking about the relative merits of Laclau and Zizek.  He said that Zizek doesn’t know his Lacan—a claim that struck me as initially implausible, though not impossible.  I told him so.  He said, basically, “Okay, prove that Zizek knows Lacan.” Meanwhile my food is getting cold.  This seems to be a pretty obvious category error. 

Similarly when I say that people who have only really read the early Derrida stuff that is important for lit departments don’t seem to have an accurate picture of the whole trajectory of his thought, for which it might be profitable to read through works of various stages of his career.  People say, “Okay, prove it.” What?  How in the hell am I supposed to prove that, in the context of a blog conversation?  To people who are openly admitting that they haven’t read the works in question?  Again, category error.  Yet here I am being accused of expecting everyone to bow to my massive authority because I’m not going to sit down and write a damn dissertation in the comment box!

You’re misunderstanding, John.  I’m using academic basically to mean “scholarly,” and the canons of professionalized scholarly rigor are not the only possible canons of seriousness or persuasiveness.  We should do scholarly work in scholarly journals, conference papers, and monographs.  Hashing out ideas, trying out arguments, posting drafts and asking for feedback—have at it!  I encourage such activities!

By Adam Kotsko on 05/28/06 at 10:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t think I misunderstood, Adam. I certainly read the comments. I understood the category error point perfectly. I just don’t agree. I don’t think it’s appropriate to dismiss what I take as serious intellectual activity as just a failure to realize that we’re eating dinner here, man. If there is a category error in the vicinity, it is the one of misconstruing a possible form of intellectual seriousness as necessarily just a form of rudeness or social cluenessness. This is what I am objecting to.

The point about scholarship is a reasonable one, taken on its own. There is a problem on blogs with people strolling in and demanding an unreasonable accommodation for their skepticism. Yes, a Heidegger reading group is not obliged to put down Being and Time to address each and every cherished bright idea of just any Carnapian Heidegger skeptic who walks through the door, wanting to make trouble. But this true observation is irrelevant to the larger point you are trying to push, because the point cuts both ways - and you are presenting it as cutting one way. Do you see what I mean?

By John Holbo on 05/29/06 at 12:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As I commented on Adam’s thread ( I think I said all of this, but I am not sure) not all sorts of academics run into this problem, “hard” scientists, psychologists and analytic philosophers are far less snarky in blogbates than other sorts of academics, if only when they are talking about their own subjects just read thoughts arguments and rants, philosophy etc and mixing memory for example.

I’m at a loss to understand why though. It’s not like physicists, biologists, analytic philosophers, cog scientists etc are by nature more tolerant people, quite the opposite if anything and besides they are usually just as snarky as everyone else when they stop talking about their subjects.

By on 05/29/06 at 03:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam: “For the category error point, I’ll clarify a bit on the story of the asshole guy from DePaul.  We were talking about the relative merits of Laclau and Zizek.  He said that Zizek doesn’t know his Lacan—a claim that struck me as initially implausible, though not impossible.  I told him so.  He said, basically, “Okay, prove that Zizek knows Lacan.” Meanwhile my food is getting cold.  This seems to be a pretty obvious category error.”

It’s almost superfluous to add anything to this comment, isn’t it?  Knowing how Adam habitually depicts people that disagree with him (the “asshole” remark is a clear giveaway), I’d guess the story is something like this: guy from DePaul sits down to have dinner with Adam, conversation springs up, Adam is completely unable to disengage from it when he realizes that the other guy doesn’t like Zizek.  Finally, the other guy says “prove it” to make Adam go away.  Adam does, the guy eats his own dinner—which must have been getting cold if Adam’s was—and Adam goes to his blog and writes about some asshole from Depaul, said asshole being completely able to figure out who is being talked about from his own memory of the incident.

And in the crowning, extra-funny bit of projection, this is all due to the asshole from Depaul *not understanding the proper boundaries of academia*.

By on 05/29/06 at 08:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, I realize that you and Adam aren’t getting along. Let’s just stipulate, counterfactually, for the sake of this thread, that we ARE all getting along. Let it all go, in a no-fault way. For the sake of an actually interesting question about intellectual styles. (I am sure you can get into that.)

I am reminded of an old comment to this old Tim Burke post.

As a philosopher I am always perplexed when attending talks in other disciplines precisely because there seems to be so little engagement with what was said. However, I have been told by others that philosophers are rude, and that they can’t believe how mean we are to one another. I agree with your final statement, but I suspect that my disciplinary standards for being professional and generous in intent are liable to conflict substantively with those of other disciplines.

Burke’s final statement: “I think this should be a requirement of professional scholarly life, to “cross-train” both for your own benefit and for the benefit of others. We shouldn’t just tolerate this sort of unfamiliar intervention, but actively wish for it, as long as it is professional, generous in intent, and accepting of the basic legitimacy of our own disciplinary practices.”

I wanted to write a post at the time - but didn’t get around to it - about how the comment, by ‘Nicole’, is quite an important sociological observation. And this fits with what T. Scrivener has written. And John Searle has this whole schtick about it. (When you meet me, ask me to do the whole ‘John Searle attends a conference with a bunch of humanists, some of whom are discussing opera’ schtick. Nothing matters until you get to the ‘but’.) Professional philosophers are no braver, bolder, freer, more generous, etc. than other academics. But it is considered acceptable in a philosophy department to make objections in a way that, in another humanities department, would be construed as an attempt to humiliate and personally destroy an adversary. You say that the basic premise of the talk is clearly nonsense, or something of the sort. In a philosophy talk, this sort of categorical dismissal has no more interpersonal significance than someone hitting the ball really hard at you at tennis. It just doesn’t signify, because it is understood to be taking place within a game, with rules. But this sort of behavior causes confusion, across departmental lines, when it is construed as peculiarly assaultive. It’s like when those Europeans kiss you on the cheek. It’s just a thing. It doesn’t mean you’re dating. Once you realize that, it’s ok. If you didn’t realize that, it would be seriously confusing.

If you went to a dinner party and just sat their saying nothing but: ‘but the china is third rate, and the silver is fourth rate ...,’ that would be regarded as rude. But if you lived in a culture in which people were expected to be brutally frank about what they think of your china and silver, and in which it is understood that - but of course - most china and silver is poor in quality; then this sort of critical litany is not such a problem.

It goes both ways: Nicole is wrong that the English professor is not addressing the topic. It’s just that saying things a certain way - a certain sort of blunt, abrupt socratism - would be construed as a personal attack. It is understood to entail too much risk of loss of face. It isn’t done like that. This is really extremely complicated, and I don’t pretend to have a full or authoritative story to tell about it. In fact, I’m just firing my mouth off. Oh, well.

In philosophy, if you defend some form of utilitarianism, and then some fiery Kantian attempts to argue that no reasonable person could even conceive of the possibility of utilitarianism being true, that is not a problem for anyone. In English, if you invoke social constructivism and someone gets up and defends Platonic realism ... that is a problem for everyone. There’s a turd in the punchbowl (as Tim Burke says). But of course you could be a turd in the philosophy department punch just as easily. It just isn’t done the same way - i.e. be means of bold denials of cherished metaphysical and epistemological premises. There are certain sorts of, er, performative performances that would be quite acceptable in an English department talk, which would cause an academic philosopher acute embarrassment - would really seem assaultive and unmanageable. (What does one say?)

Of course philosophers and English professors DO assault each other, attempt to humiliate and defeat colleagues. But some people get the impression that the philosophers are doing it peculiarly 24-7. Which is just culture shock confusion.

This really needs to be a post rather than a comment because, strangely enough, it’s rather important. But this comment is very happy being a comment, rather than a post, because it isn’t right at all. Oh well.

By John Holbo on 05/29/06 at 09:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, Yes, I remember now—that was the after-lecture dinner where we first met in person.  So yeah, you were present for that story.  Thanks for reminding me, and for the valuable clarifications.

John, I’ll respond more substantively later today—and maybe by that time some others will have wandered into the thread as well.

By Adam Kotsko on 05/29/06 at 09:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

What I took to be Adam’s point seems close to yours, John.

Habits are stronger than justification. We carry our habits outside social contexts where they’re socially useful and into social contexts where they’re not. When the blunt philosopher (or blunt lower-class punk, to leverage my own perplexing first encounters with academia) goes outside the context in which their bluntness makes sense, they’re no longer behaving philosophically (or punk). Rather than change our behavior—a very difficult thing at any time, and well-nigh impossible when the adrenalin’s kicked in—we change its meaning. It stops being a mark of sociability and becomes something to champion. Discourse becomes war. After the war: “What a stupid waste. What where they thinking?”

The question, then, is whether a wide-open blog comment thread can be anything but the wrong context for a certain type of argument. I’m inclined to agree with Adam K. that the fit isn’t good. It’s always analytic philosophers talking about opera instead of analytic philosophers talking about analytic philosophy. Too many opportunities for clashing assumptions, career agendas, missed points, trolls, obsessives, bruised egos returning to the fray....

I remain hopeful regarding the value (including scholarly value) and blog-suitability of work other than that certain type of argument.

Unfortunately for any hope of resolving these issues by analysis, “value” is not exactly observer-neutral. I sometimes still like forceful arguments as a way of learning things, and I’m usually charmed by a direct challenge, but once fully engaged I’m as likely to slip into ego-defense as anyone. Many people less divided than myself enjoy flames for flame’s sake. They’re more amused by the sight of pompous self-styled rationalists making fools of themselves than by the sight of pompous self-styled rationalists resting content. Other people have no problem expressing a straightforward desire to make a loud splash to attact attention to themselves or to annoy Bad Guys. In the absence of other clearly measurable goals, the blogger’s tendency to take high hit counts and number of comments as positive reinforcement works against the typical professional values of, say, mathematics research, and towards the typical professional values of, say, Christopher Hitchens.

By Ray Davis on 05/29/06 at 12:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I actually don’t know what I thought I was going to say later in the day.  It would be nice if both sides of this cultural divide would be more accomodating to the other—not just in terms of making concessions to the other’s style, but also in terms of giving the other the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t being hostile.  I’ll admit that I have a decidedly mixed record on both counts.

But to respond further to a comment that doesn’t deserve a response: I’ve never accused anyone of being an asshole simply for disagreeing with me—I try my very hardest to judge someone as an asshole qua asshole.  For instance, I don’t think John is an asshole, although we disagree about a huge range of things.  (He does seem to have impeccable taste in music, though.)

By Adam Kotsko on 05/29/06 at 01:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Eh, what does not start as having anything to do with intellectual styles will not end that way.  But sure, I’ll play along.

There’s something that seems a bit off on both sides of this “the two cultures” thing.  It’s a clash of stereotypes, right?  You have the analytic philosophers saying “I seem rude, but that’s just my socialization towards internal-inconsistency-finding argumentation.” And the continental philsophers saying “Look, we primarily read texts—you can’t just figure out things like whether Zizek knows Lacan, you have to read and cite extensively and you can’t do that at the dinner table.” And then it becomes a contest over whose stereotype rightfully applies to whose subdiscipline.  Are certain Theorists failures because they don’t argue?  Or are those analytic philosophers who intrude in literary studies misguided because they haven’t read enough or the right way?

Of course neither of these stereotypes is exactly true.  But if you want to consider them as general tendencies, there’s a reason why one of them is essentially unremarked upon in wider culture while the other is the subject of endless parodies.  The failure mode of the argumentative analytical philsopher is rudeness.  The failure mode of the over-citational continental philosopher is hermeticism.  And hermeticism is not acceptible within the context of general societal expectations for academia.  Professors can be absent-minded, rude, or whatever, but they’re supposed to be engaged in communicating what they find out to anyone interested as best as they can.  The counterexample is always something about “what would physicists do if they couldn’t write things that no one understands about quantum physics”, but that’s a *bad* counterexample.  Part of the whole self-image of physics is that they try their best to teach people and do popularizations in simple language; that’s what the inevitable mentions of Feynmann are about.  It’s no accident that Sokal was a physicist.

So I think that when this is phrased as a clash of stereotypes, it’s on grounds that can’t help but favor one side.  The very defenses of Theory that play into this stereotypical conflict do work for the larger argument, which I’m sure that some people see.

By on 05/29/06 at 02:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam: “But to respond further to a comment that doesn’t deserve a response: I’ve never accused anyone of being an asshole simply for disagreeing with me—I try my very hardest to judge someone as an asshole qua asshole.”

Calling someone an asshole because they disagree with you: childish.  Calling someone an asshole because you really think that they are an asshole based on a dinner conversation: both childish and pretentious.

By on 05/29/06 at 02:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Looking back at it, I see my remarks dodge defining that “certain type of argument.” I guiltily suspect the best definition I could find would be strictly post-facto (as well as a matter of taste)—“the type of argument which has gone bad”—which makes the whole comment pretty trite. Oh, well.

By Ray Davis on 05/29/06 at 02:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, Please just leave me alone.  I’m not very good at resisting your provocations, and so we could easily head down the road of turning yet another Valve comment thread into a flame war, something that you have previously said you don’t like—and which you’ve blamed pretty much exclusively on me.  Well no, it’s not just me, it’s the way you and I interact.  So maybe we should just make a pact not to interact anymore—for instance, if I make a comment responding to John, we can just wait for John to respond to it.  Or if you make a comment responding to Anthony or Matt, I’ll just bite my tongue and let them speak for themselves.  I really think it would help the atmosphere immensely.

By Adam Kotsko on 05/29/06 at 02:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sigh. Just so this thing can stay on track I’ll say one quick thing.

I was actually present at this dinner that Adam is talking about (Rich wasn’t, just so that is clear). The guy who was visiting DePaul because he had been accepted with a fellowship made everyone at our table very uncomfortable. He accused people who like Zizek as being apologists for rape. He was super aggresive with everyone at that table. Adam made an attempt to have a conversation while the rest of us, mostly senior undergraduates, just began to try and avoid him. The guy really was a jerk and after talking with some friends here he’s known as a jerk department wide.

So, perhaps now the interesting part of the conversation can go on.

By on 05/30/06 at 03:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I second Adam’s request, as an innocent bystander who values Adam’s contributions and Rich’s, when they aren’t pissing on each other.

Well, to be honest, it’s even sometimes amusing when they ARE pissing on each other, but it’s rarely useful. I’d gladly sacrifice that vile amusement to improve the level of discussion and to avoid the pain the pissing-on so evidently causes Adam.

By on 05/30/06 at 06:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, my reply to John’s point is above, if anyone wants to pursue the thread.  Anthony, your attempted bandwagon slagging of someone who is easily identifiable, yet not here, for reasons of “super aggression” is funny on more than one level—but never mind.

By on 05/31/06 at 10:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Obvious point, probably.  It’s face, isn’t it?  That Levinasian face.  I agree with John that all sorts of interesting arguments can be had, and have been had, in comments threads; I’ve certainly learned a lot from many such exchanges, as participant and as silent observer.  But Adam K.’s onto something too, and what he’s onto, I think, is the extent to which we’re used to intellectual exchange taking place within a complex context of social checks-and-balances, the codes that determine things like ‘respect’, ‘politeness’ and so on.  It’s not that these are wholly absent online, but comments-threads are environments in which their civilising influences are certainly weakened.

So, for instance, let’s say I disagree with an eminent American professor over, I don’t know, how far it’s possible to stretch interpretation of Dante and still remain relevant and within acceptable tolerances of truthfulness.  This disagreement is not a differend in the Lyotardian sense, since the professor and I share many beliefs, many (though of course not all) of the same values, pretty-much speak the same language.  Nevertheless we disagree, and neither party wishes to stand down.  Why not?  Because if I concede in the face of an inferior argument it strongly implies that I have been bulled and have proven craven.  But I’m no coward!  ListenL Grrrrr! Moreover, naturally we both regard our own argument as the superior one.  There are ways out of this bind, but they mostly depend upon actual interaction.

If I were in the same actual space as the eminent professor I might say ‘professor, you are a much more eminent medievalist than I and know more about Dante’.  But how can I do this online?  The online version of the professor claims to be an expert, but how can I be sure?  The troll of constant sorrow claims to be able to benchpress two thousands pounds avoirdupois, but do I believe him?  And over here there’s a person who claims their name is Chantelle, eyes green, starsign Virgo, when in fact their name is Boris, their eyes difficult to see behind the enormously hairy eyebrows and their starsign is Cancer.

A weaker version of this is the ‘prove it!’ instance that Adam mentions.  In kosher academic interaction ‘prove it!’ is a fundamental and valid strategy; but supplying evidence to back up my reading of Dante will take me time, perhaps a lot of time, and finger-labour in typing it all in.  Now I may be prepared to do this, to bolster my point; but consider this case: what if my interlocutor doesn’t actually care about my proof, or my argument?  Maybe his position is actually ‘yah! yaaah! yaaaah!’ By devoting three quarters of an hour of mental labour and typing to the thread I have wasted my time, and that means he has scored a point against me.  It’s the blog equivalent of ‘made you look, fool!’ So before I invest time in the argument I need to be sure that the person I’d doing all this for at the very least appreciates and respects the effort I’m making, even if they don’t agree with me.  How can I come by this guarantee?

I remember watching a David Attenborough documentary about the jungle.  (‘Where?’ you ask?  You know.  The ‘jungle’).  He talked about a breed of butterfly whose males defends shafts of sunlight aggressively, since that’s where the females come and the mating happens.  If a butterfly ‘owns’ one such shaft and another male flies in, they do this spiral fight-flying-dance style thing for a little while until the male who’s flown in flies off and the original male continues in possession.  And, apparently, it always happens that way.  So scientists being scientists they managed to infiltrate two butterflies into the same shaft of light.  They fought, and because both considered themselves, in their not-enormous butterfly brains, to be in the right, they continued fighting until they both died of exhaustion.  And that’s the kind of space a blog comment space can become.

By Adam Roberts on 05/31/06 at 12:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich,

More than you realize, I’m sure.

By on 05/31/06 at 01:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam R.: “But Adam K.’s onto something too, and what he’s onto, I think, is the extent to which we’re used to intellectual exchange taking place within a complex context of social checks-and-balances, the codes that determine things like ‘respect’, ‘politeness’ and so on.”

With all due respect, I don’t think that has much to do with Adam K.’s point.  His example was of a academic dinner conversation, in which all of these social checks-and-balances exist.  Also, a casual description of someone as an asshole is not consistent with a point being one about the need for respect and politeness.  His point was that people should not demand proof involving work issues in casual conversation that can not be provided without recourse to greater resources than are appropriate to casual conversation.  John attempted to generalize an objection to this into the form “Analytic philosophers are socialized to always do this, so when you say it’s a category error, you’re really just responding to your own disciplinary socialization.” Which I commented on above.

By on 05/31/06 at 02:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve deleted a comment by the troll. He wasn’t actually being trollish, but I’ve had it with him, after the whole J&B thing. I’m sick of him using my comment boxes as his personal obscene graffiti scribble space, and I’m not going to take it any more. Just thought I would make my policy clear. I notice his stuff. He gets deleted. That’s it.

By John Holbo on 05/31/06 at 07:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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