Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On Coulter, Malkin, Bullshit, and Ideologues

Ann Coulter's website got hacked on Monday. The perpetrators got in and put up a fake post in which she was supposed to have written,

Dear Readers,

I've been participating in a charade for nearly eleven years, now. Quite frankly, I'm sick of it. You have all been a part of a sick joke that I began considering shortly after first getting on the air. At first, it was quite interesting to see how people would react when I would use twisted logic and poorly masked bigotry.

But eleven years is a long time to be living a fake life, and I can no longer tolerate this falsity. Even someone as fake as I tires out eventually.

Here's the truth, I don't care what people believe. Jews don't need to be "made perfect" as I so arrogantly proclaimed to Editor & Publisher not a half week ago. I don't even care if people are Muslim. Granted, I don't know much about the religion or the people, but they are people. This is something that we cannot forget, they are in an abhorrent situation. These people are in need of education. Perhaps if we did not participate in causing them misery, they would not hate us so.

In fact, does it really matter whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, or even Pagan? We are one nation. One. We should not let petty differences separate us, we are all American, and should act in that manner.

And with that, my precious viewers, I bid you adieu. My career as a media figurehead is over.


Ann Coulter

P.S. - Oh, and Bill O'Reilly is also just acting.
A few days before, Publius, at Obsidian Wings, made a similar claim in comparing Coulter to Michelle Malkin,
I think Coulter is essentially an act. She’s extreme, sure. What she says is abhorrent, agreed. But I think she’s carved out a niche for herself where her interests aren’t necessarily aligned with the conservative movement. She’s a self-promoting outrage artist -- her goal is not to promote an agenda but to stoke the fires. For instance, I have no doubt she was nothing but ecstatic about the public reception to her Edwards comments.

The point is that when Coulter sits at home at night, I suspect she conceives of herself as an entertainer. A shock-artist, sure -- and someone who is deliberately offensive. But, an entertainer nonetheless. And more to the point, she knows what she’s doing. She’s fully in control...

She couldn’t care less about any pushback -- she wants the pushback.
In essence Publius and the hackers are arguing that Coulter is a bullshitter in Harry Frankfurt's sense of the term.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
But what is interesting about Publius' argument is that its conclusion is counter to Frankfurt's. Frankfurt argues that the bullshitter is worse than the liar because the liar at least buys into the notion of truth, where the bullshitter sees truth as irrelevant.

Publius, on the other hand, sees the bullshitter in this case as less dangerous because it is just an act. Publius seems to argue (I think it is a fair reading) that the comparison here is not between the bullshitter and the liar, but between the bullshitter and the ideologue, a person who does care deeply about truth, but who is unwilling to let facts that force a reevaluation of one's position determine her beliefs. The bullshitter at least believes in rhetorical power, the ability of other's words to affect belief, but the ideologue has beliefs so set in stone that there is no process involved in determining truth. The truth-teller believes in rationality and attempts to use it. The liar, believes in rationality and attempts to side-step it. The bullshitter does not believe in rationality and attempts to subvert it, but does believe, like Protagoras, that something truth-like can be achieved through persuasive dialog. The ideologue, however, eschews both rationality and persuasion, coercion and bullying is the coin of the realm. Truth is equated with power, it is not that truth gives one power, but that one sees the ability to shape popular views as an instantiation of power. It is power that is paramount and truth is nothing more than the ability to bend the will of others in order to get them to assert to your position, even if it means attacking soldiers in the theater of battle or twelve year old children.

So, are the hackers right? Is Coulter's bit really just schtick? If so, does that make it more or less worrisome than the true believers? More dangerous because it gets more press, it's sexier, and plays a larger role shaping our discourse by determining what is acceptable to say, what we talk about, and whether rational fact-based discourse is the standard? Or less worrisome for the reasons Publius sets out? If it is not just schtick, how should we respond to claims like it would be preferable for women not to vote or that Jews are in need of perfecting? Does ignoring someone looking for attention make them go away or leave their false and harmful claims unchallenged to be accepted?