6.03.2007

A Response to a Response to a Post About an Opinion Piece

Sean Maher, the subject of a content analysis by me and a blog by Christine Ferrer posted a response on his blog and took issue with my analysis of his opinion piece and with our views.

In it Maher wrote:
Back to the diversity issue: I offered Thomas a chance to continue the public debate by dedicating a page of our special graduation issue to a dialogue between the two of us. I recognized that my column had unfortunately been run without any counterargument, and I thought we'd all look more thoughtful and mature by correcting that. He seemed happy with the suggestion, and while we didn't end up actually completing that project, I felt like the issue had been settled now that he and I were on happy terms.

Of course, I was wrong about that.
[Que dramatic music here.]

Maher took issue with many things I wrote in my content analysis and stated:
I didn't expect to run my column without controversy or debate - it's a galvanizing, inflammatory subject for a lot of people - but whatever the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments, I'm amazed by how quickly and vehemently the reaction involved personal attacks. The rampant assumption (and subsequent condemnation) regarding my personal history, in Stephens' article especially, is alarming.
Personal attacks? Looking over my article I actually saw very little personal attacks of the ad hominem type. I did open up with this however:
Diversity making a white hetero-sexual male squeamish, hmmm...Well, nothing new there really.
Funny? Maybe. Ad hominem, eh, not really. Of course, there was this:
Yet Maher doesn't see this, and justifiably so. He doesn't see this because he is white. His white skin is his shield. As the co-editor of the paper Ian Thomas told Maher in a rage on Thursday. "I don't mean to insult you buy you are a white heterosexual male!" In society's eyes that is not an insult but a "complement" and for Maher to not see it as otherwise shows us his complete obliviousness to his white privilege, his male privilege, and his heterosexual privilege.
Pointing out one's white privilege (that all white people obviously have) in my opinion is not an ad hominem attack but instead pointing out a reality in this racialized country. However Maher sees it (I'm assuming) as an attack on his charecter. This can actually be another example of white privilege since pointing out white privilege is met with cries of "character assassination," "personal attacks," and even "reverse racism," and is never seen as a critical judgement on a harsh reality on is almost never seen as (by the person in question) a call to critical self-reflection.

Let's see, what else did I write, ah yes, this one:
Maher's life has been shaped by the fact that he is white. He can say such things as "what defines us...are our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions" and that what diversity is, "is a wealth of individual beliefs" because Maher is a white male.
And:
He's blind to the fact that the people around him are all white. He's blind to this not because of any moral superiority to someone who would see all of the white faces around him but instead is blind because he fails to look at his own privilege.
And a little sprinkle of this:
Sadly, with thinking such as his, [X]Press will only continue to contribute to the everyday acceptance of white privilege, white supremacy, and the ignoring of the racial realities of America.
Now (concerning the last quote) that's an ad hominem attack! All though, not so much of an attack as my harsh conclusion and prediction of Maher's future tenure if he continues to think the way he does and is only stated at the end of a near 4,000 word analysis.

Maher didn't say much in his response really (unless he's planning a much larger one). He went on to say:
I neither regret nor rescind my arguments, nor do I find much in the Double Consciousness critiques that truly, substantively addresses the stance I've taken - they're rife with ad hominem attacks and straw man fallacies, reflecting less that they understood my ideas than that a white man's thoughts on diversity issues may strike some audiences emotionally before they're absorbed intellectually.
Ad hominem, according to Webster's Dictionary, is:
1: Appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect
2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.
And Wikipedia:
An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the person", "argument against the man") consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. It is most commonly used to refer specifically to the ad hominem abusive, or argumentum ad personam, which consists of criticizing or personally attacking an argument's proponent in an attempt to discredit that argument.
Straw Man fallacies you say?

Webster states:
1: a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted
2: a person set up to serve as a cover for a usually questionable transaction.
Wikipedia states:
A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact a misleading fallacy, because the opponent's actual argument has not been refuted.

Its name is derived from the practice of using straw men in combat training. In such training, a scarecrow is made in the image of the enemy with the single intent of attacking it. It is occasionally called a straw dog fallacy, scarecrow argument, or wooden dummy argument.
In reality, I'd argue, my content analysis actually had very little in ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments. In fact, there a few times I do actually agree Maher to a certain extent:
I agree with Maher on this point. It's an inexact science to look at photos and guess what someone's race is. This is the reality of race, race doesn't exist (see "What Is Race?"), it is not biological, it's sociological.

...

It's an encouraging thing that Maher knows that race and culture are two different things. But, at the same time, in America, race and culture are so intertwined it's impossible to set aside the two in most people's minds.
I even agree, to a certain extent, with his views on diversity of opinion:
Maher sees diversity as differences in beliefs, perspectives, and behaviors, and not as cultural and racial. Yet one gets different opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and behaviors when one has a culturally and racially diverse social group. Of course, I also accept his argument that if I had friends who were of every different race and gender and all thought the same (such as if I was Bill O'Reilly and my friends were Michelle Malkin, Thomas Sowell, Condaleeza Rice, Ann Coulter, and Alberto Gonzales) I wouldn't be doing a service to my personal growth.
I even criticize myself and use my self as an example in not realizing one's privileges.

I also clarify by what I mean by racism:
By racism I don't mean the classical sense of the word but the contemporary sense of the word. For more detail and discussion see "Racism and White Supremacy."


My piece is actually quite well thought out and written in a way that tries to backup my arguments with real evidence and not dominated with attacks on Maher's character. It seems to me that Maher sees my pointing out his whiteness as an attack on his character which actually points out his continued blindness to his white privilege.

Maher writes:
nowhere in my column did I make or imply the blanket argument that Race Does Not Matter Ever, though this stand is attributed to me as the point from which both writers begin their debate.


Actually I never stated that Maher said "Race does not matter ever." I've looked through it and haven't seen that implied, nor did I mean it to be implied in such a simplistic way. But the cusp of his argument is actually that argument. It's the thinking behind the words. Maher never specifically said that "race does not matter ever" but the reasons why his opinion piece came about and the actual underlying argument (whether conscious or not) in this society is that very statement. We did a content analysis on race and Maher wrote an opinion piece about diversity of opinions mattering and not diversity of race. Yet that argument lends itself to ignoring the realities of race and the realities of white privilege. Those whom are ignorant of their white privilege, such as Maher (Oh snap! An ad hominem!), tend to use that line of thinking, and that line of thinking ignores the reality of race in America and the overall Western world.

And speaking of ad hominems, Maher wrote:
reflecting less that they understood my ideas than that a white man's thoughts on diversity issues may strike some audiences emotionally before they're absorbed intellectually.


I'm being accused at not looking critically at his piece and not "absorbing it intellectually" because, you know, his argument is sooooooo over my head and is sooooo intellectual (oh woe is me). Of course, my entire content analysis was an exercising in analyzing Maher's words critically and in an intelectual way with very little in ad hominem attacks and with no straw man arguments.

My argument was a critique of a line of thinking and of whiteness and not of Maher's character (quite the nice guy in my opinion). Numerous times I give histories of whiteness and examples of white privilege and contemporary racist thought and of uncritical thinking. I even link previous blogs in my content analysis in order to further clarify my position.

Maher than quips:
The lesson as I see it from here is not to shy from saying things because people may get pissed: after all, pissed off people can be a lot of fun, and their writing can make working on the paper more engaging and exciting.


I guess people whom are critical of Maher's point of view are just invitations to have quite a jolly good time instead of looking at the accusation and argument in hand and looking critically at one's self.

There is much more I would like to say but in reality it was already said in my previous blog on Maher's opinion piece. I was talking with my friend (and fellow Double Consciousness editor) Carlo Montemayor stating that I was looking forward to Maher's response but that it would probably have little in the way of true analysis of my piece and in reality wouldn't actually address any of the issues that I brought up. Sadly my predictions came true (Boo-yah! Chalk up another ad hominem for Jack!) since the cusp of his response was:
I didn't expect to run my column without controversy or debate - it's a galvanizing, inflammatory subject for a lot of people - but whatever the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments, I'm amazed by how quickly and vehemently the reaction involved personal attacks. The rampant assumption (and subsequent condemnation) regarding my personal history, in Stephens' article especially, is alarming.

Diversity is a dense and difficult issue, and I don't claim to have everything figured out; the debate rages on, as I know it must, and I expect I've still much to learn.

But I neither regret nor rescind my arguments, nor do I find much in the Double Consciousness critiques that truly, substantively addresses the stance I've taken - they're rife with ad hominem attacks and straw man fallacies, reflecting less that they understood my ideas than that a white man's thoughts on diversity issues may strike some audiences emotionally before they're absorbed intellectually. After all, nowhere in my column did I make or imply the blanket argument that Race Does Not Matter Ever, though this stand is attributed to me as the point from which both writers begin their debate.


Again I end with:
Sadly, with thinking such as his, [X]Press will only continue to contribute to the everyday acceptance of white privilege, white supremacy, and the ignoring of the racial realities of America.

2 comments:

Parentalcation said...

"My piece is actually quite well thought out and written in a way that tries to backup my arguments with real evidence and not dominated with attacks on Maher's character."

No not really. You wrote 3,630 words (that's after eliminating the quoted portions) to respond to an article that used 570... ever hear of the word succinct.

suc·cinct /səkˈsɪŋkt/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[suhk-singkt] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–adjective 1. expressed in few words; concise; terse.
2. characterized by conciseness or verbal brevity.
3. compressed into a small area, scope, or compass.

Quite truthfully, I couldn't tell if you made a rational argument, I got lost and bored after the first 6 paragraphs.

Jack Stephens said...

"Quite truthfully, I couldn't tell if you made a rational argument, I got lost and bored after the first six paragraphs."

So, here, you are admitting to not fully reading or comprehending my article and yet you criticize it without offering a rebuttal of any of the facts that I proposed.

The only thing you said was that I wasn't "succinct." Yet when has being succinct ever meant one was in the right?

Maher's simplistic piece on race was full of so many misperceptions, errors, and logic that is shaped by white privilege it needed a much longer analysis than 570 words.