Sunday, May 07, 2006


Imagine a child who comes running to his mother, saying that the neighbourhood bully beat him up. The evidence is clear; a bleeding lip and a black eye. He hopes that his mom will take some action against this obviously despicable act. To his astonishment, his mother launches into a tirade, where she suddenly lists all the times he has misbehaved at home: dropped his glass of hot chocolate, broken the TV remote, and spilt chili sauce on the nice new carpet. His mother says that because he indulged in these other misdemeanours, not only does he have no right to accuse the bully of beating him up, but also that the incident he experienced never even happened, inspite of the cruel and clear evidence right in front of her eyes. With that, she leaves. Needless to say, the child is completely flummoxed, and feels humiliated and cheated.

Some people are taking a stance exactly like the mother's, to try to either accuse certain individuals of not having the right to express their opinions about certain matters, or to exculpate other individuals from misdemeanours or crimes, in a way that would make logical thinkers cringe. This is even if what the former are saying is right, and what the accused are doing is plain wrong.

I am aware of a couple of such recent incidents. For example, Arundhati Roy has long been lambasted for her left wing and sometimes extreme views. I agree that she does cross the line sometimes, and launches into extended spiels against globalization (like her pretty misguided and silly denunciation of cell phone corporations in India). But does that suddenly discredit everything she has said about, say, the current US administration, or about corporate greed? What about this article here, published remarkably soon after 9/11, which I still think is a commendable article of simple clarity. Because we don't agree with Ms. Roy's views on certain issues, let's not slot her into the general category of being a nut, and suddenly start seeing an ulterior and deluded motive behind everything she says. There is almost nothing in the world which is all right or all wrong. It's important to objectively analyze what an individual says, and then judge it, instead of finding ammunition against that individual's character, and implying that that necessarily renders everything what she or he says as wrong. Elementary logic can tell us that this is not the right approach. Not that I am implying that elementary logic can be applied to social problems, but in this case, many times it's quite clear that one thing does not automatically imply the other. Maybe it does, maybe it does not. My problem is with critics trying to find a necessary and sufficient connection between the two that according to them, exists by default.

The second such individual against whom ad hominem attacks have always been a favourite ploy of his critics, is Noam Chomsky. Recently, there was an article asserting that Chomsky is a 'closet capitalist' because he has a trust fund set up, through which he holds stocks in some of the very corporations he is accusing of being criminals. I already have posted my opinion about this in detail. To expect an individual who criticizes a system to not partake of any benefits of that system at all, is being naive and unrealistic. In fact, this is precisely what that individual's critics would want, that the individual should get out of the system completely, so that he is no longer in a position to criticize it. Does that mean that every American citizen who criticizes the government for some policy or the other, does not have the right to live in the US?
Let's assume for a moment that Chomsky does all that he has been accused of, and also that that is the only side of the picture (a fundamentally false premise). Still, how does that suddenly debunk all the arguments against corporations and US foreign policy he makes? Like I said in my post, how does the cook's possibly shoddy character suddenly make his cakes rotten? There is no necessary connection between the two. Also, such articles are really relevant, if they are so at all, for someone who hero-worships Chomsky. I love his writings by and large, but I don't think he is not flawed. But I do try to make efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to call wheat wheat, and chaff chaff. I think all of us should. The point is that after one hundred years, professional historians and political scientists will not care one bit for what Chomsky's character was, but only for what he said (They don't even do that for Marx- that's why I think that Paul Johnson't book is brilliant but meaningless in the end). So why indulge in so much character bashing? What's the point here?

The latest salvos in the fray seem to have been fired by those, who are criticizing former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, for speaking up against Donald Rumsfeld during Rumsfeld's trip to Atlanta a few days back. McGovern plainly asked the secretary why he lied that he knew the exact locations of the WMDs in Iraq. Not suprisingly, Rumsfeld was in quite a fix, and in the end, managed to barely get away with the kind of seemingly clever but trite remarks which politicians are known for. He even managed to try to inject some humour into the matter to try to deflect people's attention, by saying that there are troops who go out into the field wearing gas masks and chemical suits, and they don't do this 'for the style'. Well, American troops in Iraq are also not there for the style. They believe that their government has sent them there for a valid cause, and it's also a fact that without their trust in their government which has led them there, their government would be nowhere. The government should remember this.
In any case, a blogger hurled accusations at McGovern, citing that McGovern was involved in all kinds of shady and unpatriotic activities [Hat tip: Gawker]. Apart from the fact that this charge sheet looks like vintage tabloid slander, as Gawker also simply notes, even if this is true, how does that suddenly exonerate Rumsfeld from having misled the people? Just as the existence of troops with yellow suits hunting for CWs does not necessarily point towards definite sites of existence of these weapons, McGovern's past, even if true, does not distort McGovern's allegations. Let's say McGovern turns out to be some flag burning protest marcher, who has participated in rallies against every American president in the last 30 years. How on earth does that have anything to do with Rumsfeld not having lied to the people about WMDs? Isn't that a violation of simple logic? It seems that such people as this blogger use the same strategy as any 'good' politician, to try to deflect the issue at hand, and prove that is is meaningless, by going down the character defamation road.

Indulging in ad hominem attacks is hardly something new. Also, such attacks in some way, remind me of the arguments that creationists make 'in support' of their 'theory'. They claim that evolution has certain pitfalls in it, and that makes their 'theory' true by default. No matter that they have not procured a single shred of evidence in support of their own contentions, nor have they actually proved that evolution is a fundamentally flawed theory. The ad hominem perpetrators are similar. They attack their opponent's character, and try to prove that this allegation makes his statements false by default. They neither produce negative evidence to disprove his beliefs, nor positive evidence to corroborate their own.
Such attacks have always been part of the paraphernalia of any 'good' politician. But that does not hide the fact that at the least, they point to clever use of propaganda aimed at obscuring the main issue, and at worst, point to plain jealousy on the part of the accuser, or desperation from having run out of valid, relevant arguments to counter their adversary's arguments. This is too old a ploy, and nobody should be taken in by it. Unfortunately, people still do, and it's important for all not to lose sight of the goal.

As for the analogy with the bully, the tragedy is that these days, the child does not even have a mother to run to. All he can do is negotiate with the bully and demand explanations from him. And no point in expecting the bully to accede.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One issue I have seen in the US, is extra emphasis on the "end result" and lack of emphasis on the means of getting it. Was it a good thing getting a dictator out of power ? -- Sure. Was the war in Iraq a good way of get there ?? -- Surely not. The US is a great nation is almost every aspect, but seems to lack in "wisdom". Sending Iraq into political anarchy without creating a platform for social and political rebuilding is not a wise decision. Like most other political schemes, democracy
needs a suitable society to survive.... and rebuilding a society is too big a task, even for the US.

Just my $0.002

1:07 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Very good point there. Maybe this mentality arises from the mindset that if you have essentially infinite resources, then you simply throw them at a problem, any problem, and expect that it will get solved, irrespective of moral and other issues related to the matter

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you know who am I ?? Just realized I forgot to write my name ... :)

6:10 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

From the style, Chetan, Sid Rege, Anya? But I could be wrong :)

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anirudh said...

Since I am an admirer of Roy's writings, I've been quite surprised by the vicious and baseless attacks on her by some mainstream journalists and the blogosphere.

The blogosphere, of course, seems to be very, very anti-Left, so I am not surprised by such attacks. But it is irritating. Why can't they find something worthwhile to attack? Or why don't they attack Ms.Roy in a sensible manner?

2:39 AM  
Anonymous Siddharth Rege said...

Hey Ahustosh,
Long time since I put in a comment. For some reason I have great trouble sending in the comment. Blogger keeps asking me to re-enter the 'word verification'. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact taht I use Firefox instead of IE. Anway let me see if this comment goes through. I am trying out on IE. If it does, then I shall comment further on your articles.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Sid Rege said...

Alright, so my previous comment showed up. That makes me wonder if everyone using Firefox is having trouble or it is something to do with the setting I have on it.
ANyway, I really liked this write-up. It always strikes me as absurd that people like OReilly and Lou Dobbs make these kinds of statements all the time and get away with it, in front of a seemingly educated audience. Infact, the moment anyone says anything the first thing these guys is a 'fact-check' on the person bring out the fact. Once they find that the said person is not quite Jesus Christ, they promptly pooh-pooh the whole thing.
In a way, I find all this very disappointing. I have always maintained that Indian politics throws up all kinds of unsavory characters because the electorate is uneducated and easily manipulated. But the US educated electorate seems even easier to manipulate. This only seems to lead credence to the my friend Amit Kumar's theory. He comes from rural Bihar and would always maintain that he could fool 10 american before he could fool one uneduated illiterate bihari villager. Well who knows.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Hirak said...

We all have some sort of prejudice or the other and different lenses through which we see the world. Some people will not gracefully acknowledge this. Some people manage to put it aside and can critique an idea on its own merit. For many others like Bill O' Reilly their livelihood depends on that very slant.
What I get out of it is that the media will say what the people want to hear. Sad, but true.
* *
Anirudh: Anti-left bashing is a fad. A sorry mental state of the blog herd.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since it makes no difefrence to you:


#### Since you did not really understand the above comment, let me explain it: Deleting comments reflects an inability to respond to criticism, not just by the mores of the blogsphere, but by the mores of basic human decency and forbearance. But of course, you are also not bound by either of these traditions I guess.
* * * * * It does no such thing - given thet fact that point by point, I have responded to each of your puerile statements. And it makes me snort - he is writing entries titled "Ad Hominem Ad Nauseum" when his comemnts are doing exactly that. And he accuses poor Tanzan of hypocrisy to boot. But you still insist on a "fist fight in the streets" - which is all that this has degenerated in.

BTW, talking of statistics and hard data, do you know what sort of hard data would be needed to support a statement that "we Indians are inherently not as progressive as Americans in this context"?
-----Yes, for example, how many people agitated for what cause. Just one example.
- - - And you think this 'data' quantifies progressiveness?
####To a large extent, in sum total, it does.
- - - - "To a large extent in sum total" eh? Do you realise how vacuous that sounds?
#### Do you realise how ignorant that question sounds?
* * * * Doesn't merit a response.

1. Defining progressiveness
----Check. Refer to the dictionary definition I pointed out a couple of days ago.
- - I did, and I checked a few other dictionaries too. And those were quite different from the one you proffered.
####And still you are not willing to cite a single one of them! And you have the audacious nerve to ask me cite from my sources??
- - - Oh I am more than willing, but you haven't asked even once while I have asked you to cite your sources repeatedly.
#### Ok, so I ask you now. Unlike you, I am more generous with citing my sources.

* * * * * Here's an easily verifiable one. (
pro·gres·sive P Pronunciation Key (pr-grsv)
Moving forward; advancing.
Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments: progressive change.
Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods: a progressive politician; progressive business leadership.
Progressive Of or relating to a Progressive Party: the Progressive platform of 1924.
Of or relating to progressive education: a progressive school.
Increasing in rate as the taxable amount increases: a progressive income tax.
Pathology. Tending to become more severe or wider in scope: progressive paralysis.
Grammar. Designating a verb form that expresses an action or condition in progress.

A person who actively favors or strives for progress toward better conditions, as in society or government.
Progressive A member or supporter of a Progressive Party.
Grammar. A progressive verb form.

2. Ascertaining the properties of 'inherent' progressiveness
-----Yeah. There's usually a historical basis for this.
- - - So whatever is historical is inherent? British Rule is historical so it is inherent? You aren't thinking what you are saying Ashu.
#####And you are stepping out of context. Again, read Zinn's book to see what I am saying.
* * * * Look, if Zinn's book is your context, you are talking in the dark because no body but you and Zinn knows what you are saying. So either explain the context that Zinn's book sets or stop harping on Zinn.
#### Since you have asked me about Zinn, you should take a look.
* * * * I haven't asked about any Zinn. Zin has been YOUR star witness in this whole episode.

3. Arriving at a reliable, standardisable, usable and "objective" measure of "progressiveness"
------It's as objective as it can get. You should know that the kind of objectivity that exists in the natural sciences does not exist in the social sciences.
- - - EXACTLY!! SO you should be careful what claims you make in the social sciences given the degree of objectivity! You have still not mentioned even a single semi objective measure of progressiveness with proper justification. You only keep mentioning Zinn's book as if it were the Bible and you were a Bible thumper!
####If I cite examples, you will invoke the one sparrow adage. The problem is, no matter what I say, you will never agree because you want to see the evidence for yourself. That is why I am repeatedly insisting that you check up on Zinn's book. And if you can't, don't say anything till you do.
* * * * * Exactly the point! ALL of Zinn's book seems to be ONLY examples - one sparrow each! No hard data, no statistics. So it is only Zinn's opinion based on examples Zin has provided (which for some reason you insist on calling DATA. As if examples I give are sparrows while examples Zinn gives magically get elevated to teh status of data. Double standards or what? Just because Zinn is a progressive American and I am a poor non-progressive Indian?
##### You know what's the meaning of the word 'gestalt', where the sum of the parts is not equal to the whole? Maybe you need to spend more time on the dictionary, and less on your CFA stuff.
* * * * * * OK. then in your PhD thesis don't present any data. Just give a few eamples and say that its a gestalt so it is more valid than any data you could give.

4. Devising a method to isolate the proportion of the total progressiveness that is "inherent" as opposed to being exherent
-------Yes, although they may become amalgamated over time.
- - - - So explain what this method is? And also please clarify how it is amalgamated. Don't just name a book and make empty claims.
#### Inherent progressiveness is usually a historical factor that has its provenance in the historical birth of a nation. No further comments until you read Zinn's book.
* * * * * Ahhh! So Zinn says that progressiveness is in the genes of a naton at birth! How very clear and illuminating!!
#### Again, more time on the dictionary to look up words such as 'history', 'genes' etc. Keep your nose on the grindstone.
* * * * * Okay, now that "Zinns" book is not enough you wish to keep saying "dictionary" instead of producing any evidence to back up your arguments?

5. Devising a method to draw unbiased random samples of individual Indians and Americans in the context desired
---------Sure. Again, look at the history.
- - - - Do you understand what random and unbiased means?
####Do you know what 'scientific method' means? Do you understand its limitations?
* * * * Well, if YOU do, why are you making absurd claims about things which the scientific method cannot justify given its limitations!
### What claims?
* * * * * Short of memory are we?

6. Drawing at a suitably large number of such samples
---------Zinn's book talks about many such 'samples'
- - - Sorry, Zinn's book talks of 'examples' not samples. And even the examples are only about Americans not about Indians. (I mean Indians from India / Bharat, not your natuve Americans). So the book only gives examples, no sampling is done, And it only examples ONE population, that of the Americans.
####And we are talking about the progressiveness of Americans, right? My, don't we have a short memory here...
* * * * No, we are talking about your claim that "Indians are inherently not progressive as Americans" in some context which you claim noone else but you understand. My, don't we have selective memory here . . . .
#### I don't, and it's better than hubris.
* * * * SO you prefer to humbly forget? *drips sarcasm* (Thought I'd add that lest you don't get it)

7. Performing several measurements of the "progressiveness" of the individual "Indians" and "Americans" in each of these samples
-----Yeah, Zinn's book does this, although you are degrading their value by calling them 'measurements'. Have more respect for human dignity please.
- - - - - So mention at least ONE quantitative objective MEASURE that Zinn uses?
### See point no.1
* * * * * * See points 1 through 7
#### See points 1 through n (enumerated over the last n+k days)
* * * * Once again, too puerile to merit a response.

8. Tabulating the measurements and filtering the outliers suitably
-----Again, too much of a mathematical and constrained approoach, but within the constraints provided by society, yes.
- - - - Yes what? Does Zinn (or any other book on AMerican progressiveness that you might have read for that matter) provide such tabulation and filtering even within the constraints provided by society?
* * * * * Excellent, kindly reproduce ONE such tabulation.
#### Explain what you exactly want. Sophistry cannot hide fogginess of expression. But I sympathize with you there; all of us at some point or the other resort to sophistry when we cannot think of anything better.
* * * * * * "Does Zinn (or any other book on Aeerican progressiveness that you might have read for that matter) provide such tabulation and filtering even within the constraints provided by society? ###Correct" - Present that tabulation. Or have you lost the ability to read?

9. Using the sample measurements of "progressiveness" to arrive at an inference on population "progressivenesses" for "Indians" and "Americans" respectively in the context desired
-----Yes, remembering that it is a historical analysis within a certain limit.
- - - - Again. Does Zinn really arruve at such an inference comparing Americans and Indians? Give at least ONE example?
###You give me an Indian example (not just one know the old one sparrow adage)
* * * * * No need for me to. I am not the one claiming inherent conmtextual progresiveness.
#### And I am providing proof which you refuse to examine. God...this is really a deja vu feeling, reminds me of some arguments I had with creationists.
* * * Exactly - where you are arguing like a Bible thumper - saying over and over "It is all in the GOOD BOOK"!!!

10. Measuring the statistical significance of the sample "progressivenesses" so measured
--------Again, you are insulting human dignity by insisting on statistical significance. It's like me asking you to quantify how much you love your wife (within error limits of course). What is the standard deviation of your love for her?
- - - The differnce is that I don't go about making claims that my love for my wife is inherently more blah blah than somone elses love for his / her wife in some blah blah context!!! Statistics comes into play when statements regarding soft social parametres like progressiveness are made as if they were objective provable truths.
####And love is a 'hard' parameter?
* * * * It IS NOT. Which is why I don't go about making claims aboit it, the way you are making claims about inherent contectal progressiveness.
##### And you think that progressiveness is a hard parameter.
* * * * It IS NOT. Which is why I, unlike you, don't go about making claims aboit it, the way you are making claims about "inherent contectal progressiveness of Americans".

11. Making a statement of measurement of the "progressiveness" of Indians and "Americans" with a certain degree of confidence (as determined by the level of significance tested in 10)
- - - Ibid too.

Fact of the matter is, our argument is useless at best. Progressiveness can never be conclusively measured and compared.
----If not, why waste your, and what's infinitely worse, my time, by citing all those points above? (adapted from 'A beautiful mind')
- - - - Simply to demonstrate how absurd a notion of measuring progressiveness is. The points were adapted form any standard statistics test. I don't read fiction of biographies as ar as possible, so I wouldn't adapt from ABM.
###"Fiction of biographies"?? Biographies are inherently non-fictional
* * * * * Typo. Fiction or biographies. BTW, biographies are a form of hero worship too.
#### O yeah? then that statement tells me one thing for sure- that you have read very very few, and very poorly written biographies in your life until now. young and already accomplished so little.
* * * * * Reading biographies may be the greatest accomplishment of your life. I have other things to focus on. And again Ad Hominem, Ad Nauseum? Besides, hardly relevant to the issue here.

RYC: Oh I understand the context of my entry very well, but I don't think you even know what context you are talking about.
-----The fact that you quoted my statement out of context on The Sentinel's page leads me to believe that you don't understand the context. It's a pretty logical conclusion.
- - - - - The context of your statement was my entry. The Sentinel has read that. And you tacitly assume the sentinel understands what you are saying? But that does not stop the statement from misrepresenting my quote.
* * * * * Absulutely, I know the Sentinel well enough to do so.
#### That hardly gives you the right to vilify me by quoting me out of context. It's like saying to some fictional character X, "O, Kapil is such a prig, and he is not even consistent" and then saying that X understands exactly what I am saying and that he does not interpret the statement in the unfavourable way that others will interpret it.
- - - Hahaha, vilify you eh? So now you have taken to concocting conspiracy theories too?

What sort of data is Zinn's book full of?
-----The kind of data cited above.
- - - Well, give at least ONE example then? Ki te dekhil nahi milat?
####Promise you won't invoke the one sparrow adage?
* * * * * * I won't as long as what you give is DATA anot not another example.
##### Gestalt- read the definition.
* * * * Data - example- proof - evidence - read the definitions.

Sangun samjat nahi ka tula? Commrnts preferred to be private because of their size NOT their content.
##### Nice excuse, but too lame.
You see, unlike your bloop, I have more than one person visiting my diary.
#### So?? Excuse me, is that supposed to mean anything?
* * * * * Well if it doesn't mean anything to you, lets move this whol discussion to blogspot?

BTW, why have you run away from IM when you are online? Ghabartos kaay?
#### Kapil's axiom no. 1: When he does not respond on YM, he is busy. When others don't respond, they are being cowards.
* * * * * Peurile personal attack. Does not merit a response. I strongly suspect "little brother syndrome" at work here.

BTW, Ashu, show me which of my comments contain "expletives".
#### Your speech is full of them. Please save me the uncivilized comments. Whatever deep impact you feel results from their usage really appalls me. I hope we can agree on this one.
* * * NO we don't. You continue to make unsubstiantiated claims. You will probably say "kapil you use a gestalt of expletives" read the definition - as a pompous verbose way to weasel out of presenting any evidence.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Sid, Hirak, and Anirudh:
I don't what the reason is for the backward thinking that is so prevelant in American society. I keep thinking these days that it may be due to the high standard of living, that allows many people to get good jobs and live life comfortably, without really getting very educated. Sid, I won't be surprised if what your friend says is true. Many Americans are not dumb as such, but they are not well-informed on matters such as stem cells, abortion statistics and analysis, and evolution. Richard Dawkins says that this regressive culture is unique to the US, because that is the only country where evangelical and religious leaders can repeatedly hold positions of great power in relatively large numbers. But doesn't that say a lot about the people themselves?
As for anti-left bashing, it's not surprising because the blogsphere is inherently free and libertarian.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anirudh said...


There's a difference between free and libertarian, isn't there? I understand what you're saying but am just pointing out that the blogosphere is a great deal on the right which cannot be accounted for by it being inherently free.

I do not know much about political ideologies but left libertarianism, Chomsky's brand of anarchism and Marx's ideal of communism would also be "free", wouldn't they?

2:12 AM  

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