• Sean II

    You’re missing the true utility of whataboutism. Works like this:

    1. Barry deports 2.5 million people, but does it quietly, so no one cares.

    2. Donald deports a few thousand people while saying rude things about Mexicans, and everyone freaks out.

    3. Inescapable conclusion: most people don’t object to deportation, they just object to the way Donald talks.

    If a different guy came along tomorrow and started deporting people while disingenuously praising diversity and immigrant grit from the other side of his mouth, those same folks would go right back to not giving a shit.

    4. Significance: this means your new allies are not actually allies in any useful sense.

    You want to protect the rights of immigrants, on principle. They want to stop Donald talking the way he does. These are not shared goals.

    What’s worse, there are many more of them than there are of you. So the most likely outcome of your “collaboration” is: they get what they want (roll back the rhetorical Overton window to 2014), and you don’t get what you want (commitment to open borders as both policy and idea).

    Preventing that is what whataboutism is all about.

    • Puppet’s Puppet

      I find Prof. Munger’s self-accusation of “whataboutism” completely baffling in the first place.

      In the linked post, Munger had argued that the “safe space” requests of the various undergrad snowflakes were, contrary to appearances, entirely consistent with the internal organizational principles of a university. His intention in writing the post was to convince the reader of that fact. The purpose of this written “speech-act,” its perlocutionary force, was not, as far as I can see, to embarrass university administrators on the other side of the issue, or to discredit them, or to propagandize for the students by any means necessary. He was acting as a philosopher, with his ultimate goal to inform and his ultimate loyalty to the truth. Was it a successful argument? Ultimately, no. But that’s neither here nor there.

      One does not commit an error in reasoning simply by showing out that one proposition is inconsistent with another; that is good reasoning. Upon being confronted with that conclusion, your audience must choose at most one proposition or the other. (In this case, the belief that the safe space demands are inconsistent with the operational values of the university was supposedly made untenable.) You have only committed a so-called “fallacy” if you are trying to demonstrate not inconsistency between two propositions, but personal hypocrisy against the person who has asserted them both. In so doing, you step outside the academic project entirely and are in the business of political activism or some such completely distinct project of speech action, in which character assassination is on the menu. This appears to be what “whataboutism” is: a propaganda technique (I had to look it up; I’d never heard of it). Is this what Munger is confessing to? I guess that’s what it looks like. I’d just assumed he was admitting that his argument didn’t really work.

      • Sean II

        I neglected to mention this in my comment, but the link is jacked up.

        The hyper he posted leads to one year old Jacob Levy post.

        To find the post Munger intended to link, I had to google his name + whataboutism.

        Not a great sign, I realize, that this blog is turning into a secondary cross-posting site.

        • Puppet’s Puppet

          Ah, I see! Makes a lot more sense now. But the article…I found the other one more interesting despite its failures, tell you the truth. This is really just yet another collaboration-strategy debate. Libertarians just seem to love having the most heated debates about this topic, I’m learning; and it’s just about the least interesting conversation out there, at least to me. Plus I think philosophers should think about steering a bit more clear of it, because they’re smart guys but they are actually really operating out of their wheelhouse here.

          Far as I can tell, the only real risks to pointing out Obama supporter inconsistency/hypocrisy are: (1) That we will scuttle our precious and delicate alliance by pissing them off like assholes; or (2) that they will actually grab the other horn and say, hey, I guess if Obama did it it really isn’t that bad. Other than that, I don’t see the problem. What, are libertarians in danger of running out of their reserves of contempt and self-superiority if they fire too much of it at Obama supporters?

          As for the cross-posting, I really don’t see why not. It doesn’t really affect my experience whether the content I read here is original. I just want it to have the higher-quality, more academic stuff that are its comparative advantage, and not be dominated by Reason Hit-and-Run or Brian Leiteresque type posts, as it seems to have had bit of a run of lately. Maybe it was always this way, and my perception of its past is distorted by the search process, the way people think old movies are good because you only seek out (or remember, if you were around) the good ones.

          • Sean II

            That’s the problem.

            Sticking to what’s true is a difficult task under any circumstances. All it takes to throw you off is one tiny little ulterior motive.

            Targeted outreach qualifies as such a motive. A few minutes under that traction and pretty soon smart people are saying stupid things.

            At any given moment you can be choosing your words for accuracy or you can be choosing them to court favor with some faction. The more you’re doing one, the less you’re doing the other.

            I should hardly need to say this, but that traction is even stronger when you’re a libertarian trying to court a socialist and scold-infested Left that opposes individual choice is just about everything except pronouns and abortion.

          • M S

            I don’t particularly disagree with any of this.

            However, my concern with whataboutism, is that, were I on the receiving end of a “What about _____, huh?!”, my mind would not leap to the conclusion that this person is legitimately interested in testing my ideological consistency, and that a productive conversation is just around the corner as long as I answer correctly. I’m probably going to think that this person just wants to dismiss whatever comment prompted the “What about _____” with a super shallow tu quoque, and that the conversation is going to go downhill from there (and given the ratio of people you can have a productive conversation with and people you can’t, I’ll probably be right).

            I generally like to think of myself as a good faith interlocutor, and so if this is how I would react to a “What about ____”, I can’t really blame anyone else for doing the same. So while I don’t disagree that lots of bad faith arguers would get pissed off at my use of whataboutism, I suspect that a lot of good faith arguers would do the same. It just doesn’t seem like a very good test to sort out good debate opponents from bad ones. And if my opponent does come away from it thinking that I’m some kind of idiot or troll (which, again, given the odds, is probably the right assumption), the costs of offering a whataboutism really outweigh whatever meager benefits I might get out of it.

          • Sean II

            How hard is it to say “Yeah, good point. That was wrong too”?

            As in…

            You: “Jones is bad for doing X”

            Them: “Ha, what about Smith! He did more X than a Houston rave in the late 80s!”

            You: “Yeah, good point. That was wrong too.”

            Your whole convoluted argument about how it’s okay to assume bad faith upon being asked this question seems to walk right past an obvious solution.

          • M S

            Oh, it’s easy as hell. No doubt about that. And that’s what I do.

            But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s irritating to say “good point” to something that isn’t (Smith doing his part to contribute to a drug free America doesn’t actually rebut the claim that Jones is bad for the same reason).

            Nor does it change the fact that it’s irritating to have to lend good faith to someone who basically accuses you of hypocrisy right out of the gate.

            If someone makes me defend myself against an unjustified charge of being a hypocrite by calling a dumb argument good, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to assume that the rest of the conversation is going to be kind of terrible.

          • Sean II

            Okay, but here – in the cases Munger refers to – the charge of hypocrisy IS quite clearly justified.

            The Left just spent eight years ignoring or praising a bunch of shit they’re supposed to be against, because a guy they liked soothed them into complacency with carefully scripted bullshit.

            This is plainly true, and obviously relevant. The range of instruments at Trump’s disposal today are there precisely because so many people couldn’t muster an objection to Obama having them.

          • M S

            All of that’s definitely true*, but the problem is that it’s not always relevant. If the left freaks out about Donald Trump having control over the armed forces and so tries to strengthen the War Powers Act (for example), I’m gonna be inclined to support that, despite the fact that they totally ignored Obama’s violations of it. Strengthening that act is good policy regardless of whether you support it for ideological or partisan reasons. The fact that I’ll have to fight the left’s attempts to ignore it or weaken it when the next lefty president gets elected doesn’t, in my mind, change the calculus as to whether to support what I believe to be good policy.

            If, on the other hand, the left wants me to start voting for Democratic candidates, then all that hypocrisy stuff is definitely relevant. If I can’t trust that those candidates will actually solve the problems they claim they want to address, then there is no reason for me to support them. And prior and current hypocrisy is a huge factor in whether that trust is deserved.

            This is why I just don’t see much benefit to raising “What about X” stuff right out of the gate. The statement “Jones is bad for doing X” doesn’t tell me whether he’s saying that because he wants to strengthen anti-X policy, or because he wants me to support Smith over Jones in the next election.

            If it’s the former, then if I agree that X is actually bad, and I think that a conversation with the other guy about X is likely to be productive, I’d rather not (a) do something that makes it look like I care more about Jones than X or (b) shift the conversation from “What can we do to fix X?” (which could be productive) to “Who is worse?” (which probably won’t be).

            And if he’s only interested in getting me to vote for Smith, it’ll probably take about 5 seconds for that to become apparent in the conversation. At which point Smith’s own lack of trustworthiness is no longer a non sequitur, but an important data point in discussing the other guy’s claim. So why not wait?

            *The one caveat I would add to that is that, while the Left may be hypocritical on a wide range of issues, the fact that a person is generally aligned with the Left does not mean that he or she personally is hypocritical on any particular issue. Both Barbara Boxer and Glenn Greenwald are “on the Left”. But one of them only cares about privacy when a Republican violates it, and one of them cares about it no matter who is violating it. And since conversations aren’t with the Left in general, but only one on one, until I have some information on this person’s specific views and attitudes, I can’t reliably assume that I’m talking to a Barbara Boxer instead of a Glenn Greenwald. That’s what I mean when I say that the charge of hypocrisy is, at least at that early stage of the conversation, unjustified.

          • Theresa Klein

            There are more sides than “Left” and “Right”, and there are plenty of “Leftists” who were unhappy with Obama’s actions and plenty of “Right-wingers” who don’t like Trump. It’s certainly the case that team partisans are hypocritical in the extreme, but I think we’re getting diminishing returns from knowing that.

          • Sean II

            “[There are] plenty of “Right-wingers” who don’t like Trump.”

            This is true.

            “There are plenty of “Leftists” who were unhappy with Obama’s actions…”

            This is laughably false. Obama enjoyed a secure left flank for eight years, and indeed may have been more insulated from within-party criticism than any president ever. He was also indulged by the media to an extent not seen since FDR.

          • Theresa Klein

            You don’t really hang out with enough leftists. Criticism was muted, for sure, but especially with progressives, they wanted single-payer, not the ACA, and they saw it as a sell-out. They also weren’t happy with his use of drones in the war on terror, and the continuation of the security state policies under the Patriot act. Similarly, Republican criticism of Trump has become more muted. I can point out any number of examples of Republicans keeping their mouths shut about Trumps actions that blatantly violate the stated principles of the GOP, starting with dumping the TPP, for starters.

            Anyway, I fail to see how productive a discussion that is a big listing of the other side’s hypocrisies is going to be. Everyone’s emotionally invested in proving that the other side is hypocritical and evil, or conversely, that the other side is drawing a bunch of false equivalencies. It’s pretty easy to respond to “whatabout” with “false equivalency”. This gets us nowhere. We should simply write off the 2/3 of the population that comprises dedicated Republicans and Democrats and argue with the people who are interested in thinking instead.

          • Sean II

            “Criticism was muted, for sure…”

            Muted? In other words, it was politically inert. In other words, Obama didn’t have to worry about it. Like I said.

            “Anyway, I fail to see how productive a discussion that is a big listing of the other side’s hypocrisies is going to be.”

            You know what kind of discussion is least productive of all? The kind where you take a whole category of true statements and place them off limits for the sake of somebody’s feelings.

            The fact that Leftists despised a given policy mix when it was attached to the name of George Bush, then turned around and worshipped it when attached to the name of Barack Obama, is a) perfectly true, and b) hugely relevant. One cannot understand American politics without knowing that.

            It needs a really GOOD reason to make the truth unmentionable. “Maybe if I go easy on their deportation hypocrisy, they’ll listen to my views on occupational licensing rollback (or whatever)” is not a good reason. In part because it never actually works.

            The pandering does not make them listen, it just makes them more confident they don’t need to.

          • Theresa Klein

            Yes, usually when someone does a “whatabout” they are really attempting to imply that you’re a TEAM player on the other side and that you’re being hypocritical about defending your side doing it while attacking the other side. And they are usually doing so without having any evidence that you’re on a team at all. For instance, if you attack Trump and someone responds with “well, what about this thing that Obama did”, they are merely assuming that you MUST support Obama doing it BECAUSE you’re against Trump. It’s revealing of a politically prejudiced world view – if you’re not on my side, you must be on the other side. And it’s really irritating to having someone make assumptions about your worldview based only on your opposition to a particular politician.

        • Puppet’s Puppet

          Oh, and by the way; didn’t even really notice this part…

          Donald Trump’s attempts to intimidate or abuse the American press,
          Trump and Steve Bannon calling the press the “opposition party,”
          And the Trump administration imposing a gag order on Federal agencies, especially the EPA.,

          Who the fuck cares about any of those things? That is some piss-poor authoritarianing right there, if you ask me. Shape up, Donald!

          • Sean II

            Indeed. One of the most ridiculous memes going right now is the idea that it’s somehow censorious (or ominous of censorship) for Trump to notice and mention aloud how much the legacy media hates him.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Sometimes I am not even sure what progressives are trying to do. Take the travel moratorium, for example. On the campaign trail Trump played to the cheap seats by promising to ban Muslims from coming here. Once in office, he announces a policy that under ordinary circumstances no one would ever suspect of being anything remotely resembling a “Muslim ban”–and which probably will not accomplish anything at all. Of course, these are not ordinary circumstances, and he himself has to explicitly insist that this ridiculous thing is indeed the very same “Muslim ban” that he has promised everyone. How do progressives react? By going into all sorts of bizarre histrionics; I’d say “acting as though it really were a Muslim ban,” but this actually describes some of the more moderate reactions.

            What exactly are they trying to accomplish with this? I honestly don’t have some sort of hypothesis as to some sort of agenda. I really could not even guess.

          • Sean II

            The scale and intensity of the freakout is puzzling to be sure.

            Never in the field of human drama has so little done so much to threaten the sanity of so many.

            I really can’t explain it. One aspect seems to be a kind of Godwin’s Revenge, with people using the “rise of Hitler” rhetorical weapon so loudly that the resulting echo has them convinced it must be real.

            What I do know is that some of the “literally shaking” people are NOT literally faking. I’d never have believed this without seeing it, but two members of my own family reacted like that: real tears, real tremors, real trauma symptoms.

            Interesting to note what this says about the state of social trust. Turns out many people believe that the only thing standing between them and a concentration camp is the will of the President.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            While you’re here, maybe you can help me figure out something distantly related.

            I’ve been quietly noticing for some time now that the issue of PC/SJW/identity politics/intersectionality/campus snowflaking/etc. has been dividing the left-libertarian community. Essentially all “nonmarketeers” (syndicalists, communalists, eco-anarchists, left-anarcho-feminists, probably primitivists, whatever), as well as some left-market-libertarians (C4SS, for example) who would fall under Kevin Vallier’s “labor” caucus are staunchly sympathetic. Essentially all liberals (most of BHL), as well as some Vallier laborites (the rest of BHL; the lovable oddball ex-Trotskyist cultists at Spiked) are often positively gleeful in their contempt for it.

            The Berkeley riots have brought this so starkly that even I am shocked. The other side has lined up foursquare against the students and for the rioters who shut them down. The Spencer punching provoked the same reaction. And I’m trying to figure it out. My best attempt to put it in some historical context is this: These people consider themselves to be in a perpetual state of war, and acting in accordance with some tradition of physical force anarchism. I know that already in the 19th century some were expanding the target of their terrorism from the state and its agents to administering justice against capitalists who had violated the rights of their workers. Still, I don’t know if any actually advocating attacking people for their ideas or speech alone; it seems like a hell of a rubicon for a libertarian to consider that a violation of the rights of the oppressed.

            Additionally, I think the heritage of anarchism may also figure into these folks’ sympathy for the current cultural victim-politics Left in the first place. Anarchists have a long history of showing an interest in broader and more complex notions of social oppression, and an active, immediate commitment to implementing “cultural radicalism,” when compared for example to the more rigid, singularly doctrinaire, narrowly economically focused, and downright immediately “moderate” and culturally conservative Marxo-Leninists; compare the two in Spain, for instance. So, while socialists of all stripes are looking ridiculous these days contorting themselves into adapting to the new “leftist” reality of turtle hugging and boutique gender identities, the anarchists were in a much better position to fit right in.

            I don’t know. It’s just very striking to see libertarians of any stripe taking positions that so utterly horrify the bulk of their compatriots. I guess I knew some lunatics did so–the “Black Block” itself, after all–but I was surprised to see that sentiment shared by so many serious folks. I thought maybe antifa were just folks who liked the dress code and that cool “A” logo. (Fuck you, Dad! And Mr. Murphy at the Cinnabon, you fucking capitalist pig slavedriver.) I was hoping you could shed some light on it; I don’t know jack shit about anarchism at this point.

            Meanwhile, you may enjoy this multi-part shittalking from (it appears) a syndicalist calling his peers out on their modern patheticness. The rest of his shit is pretty good too; I like it even when it skewers my side instead of his!

          • Sean II

            One thing you can bank on: whatever they call themselves, the people burning cars to enforce a speech taboo and the people smashing windows because Hillary isn’t President are NOT anarchsists.

          • AP²

            I don’t get why everyone seems to think identity politics is a new phenomenon. Is it just because I mostly visit US based sites? Has nobody even watched Monty Python’s Life of Brian? The movie’s over 30 years old, and already mocked this kind of stuff: https://txt.fyi/+/5948ce86/ (I’ve even heard/read some people say they “predicted” current discourse. Well, no, they were lampooning actual conversations taking place.)

            Still, I don’t know if any actually advocating attacking people for
            their ideas or speech alone; it seems like a hell of a rubicon for a
            libertarian to consider that a violation of the rights of the
            oppressed–especially when it’s poor pathetic old Spencer babbling or a
            gay British prankster-sprite being fabulous.

            If you were talking about US-style right-wing proprietarian libertarians, I’d agree. Otherwise, for an anarchist, violence is inherent in the very core of the current system, and they’re just using self-defense. Remember Brecht,

            “The headlong stream is termed violent
            But the river bed hemming it in
            Is termed violent by no one.”

            Now, sure, Spencer is just a jackoff, but he’s also the frontman of a push to make the system even more violent. Mob bosses often don’t harm people with their own hands, but are they not violent? And is it very different if the people doing the violence are doing so out of allegiance, rather than cash?

          • Sean II

            “I don’t get why everyone seems to think identity politics is a new phenomenon.”

            There’s an obvious reason for this. You can map it out in five easy pieces.

            1) West develops historically unprecedented out-group empathy and as a result seeks to replace identity politics with universal principles

            2) These principles invite people from different groups, and/or they empower members of existing minority groups.

            3) Many of these groups do not fare well in open competition, and many have notably low out-group empathy.

            4) These groups respond by establishing identity-based movements, characterized by deep resentment against the West and its principles.

            5) Some Westerners respond by doubling down on universalism, while others respond by tracking back to identity politics.

          • King Goat

            That chronology is a fantasy. Take the American experience:

            1. Nation founded under universal principles and ideals.

            2. Nation fails, usually horribly, to live up to those ideals for most of its history.

            3. Groups coming or brought here, facing 2, naturally seek support in people like themselves.

            4. Country starts to make an attempt to get over 2 when pushed by groups involved with three.

            5. A little over a generation later when some of the groups that had it worst under 2 haven’t caught up and/or fully shed elements of 3, people like Sean declare project involved in 4 must be impossible due to something odd about people in 3.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            I would replace “West” with “liberal society” and place much less blame on foreign invasion by the ungrateful “out-groups.” Rather, the consistent story is that, even in the United States where it has generally been strongest, our faith in liberalism has never quite been strong enough.

            Thus, when an incomplete liberalism has led to social injustice, we have often lacked the zealot’s confidence to forge ahead with faith to destroy whatever illiberalism there is, and have instead retreated to rival theories without admitting that we are doing so. Thus, when the pro-business economic engineering of the late 19th and early 20th century meant that the era’s stupendous economic gains were not as good for the common man as they could have been, the result–after things came to a head in the 30s–was that we retreated to full-blown market socialism, embracing far more engineering than ever before. And when we have seen that our glorious liberalism has had a blind spot for the rights of our black citizens, with its centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, flawed justice system policy, etc., our reaction has not been one of confidence that all injustice could be eradicated by liberalism; we retreated to an increasingly illiberal set of measures beginning with the Kennedys and Johnson (those lifelong warriors for black equality, they) and culminating in the present infantilizing nonsense. Tell a similar story for women, Latinos, gays and transsexuals, whatever. “Good people” are no longer liberals, because they never were very good ones.

          • Sean II

            Funny things happen when a high brow meets a low brow, out-group empathy wise.

            The low empathy population can’t understand, and often can’t quite believe, what they’re seeing from the high empathy host. Hard to read in others the thoughts you yourself do not have. At best the strange solicitous behavior of these W.E.I.R.D.O.s comes across as weakness, but over time it tends to be seen more as cruel trickery.

            Meanwhile the high empathy people can’t figure out why resentment actually seems to increase with each new charitable overture. Many respond by concluding “we didn’t try hard enough! However much niceness we applied to the problem last time, we must now do more!” But soon enough the rocks are flying, the cars are burning, all over again.

          • Theresa Klein

            Once in office, he announces a policy that under ordinary circumstances no one would ever suspect of being anything remotely resembling a “Muslim ban”–and which probably will not accomplish anything at all.

            Well other than harming a bunch of innocent people who happened to be caught mid flight when the order went out. Other than trapping a bunch of legal US visa holders in foreign countries and/or airports, including academic researchers on their way home from a conference. You might consider the possibility that the ‘histrionics’ are based on the fact that actual human beings that progressives actually personally know, will actually suffer as a result of this. I know that conservatives tend to live in rural areas and hence don’t interact with foreign nationals that much, but progressives often do live and work in environments where they come into contact with foreigners on a daily basis, and even have friends who are not US citizens (imagine that).

          • Sean II

            “…consider the possibility that the ‘histrionics’ are based on the fact that actual human beings that progressives actually personally know, will actually suffer as a result of this.”

            Nope, the numbers are just too small. Explanation does not scale.

            Also your theory makes a false prediction.

            If “suffering of someone I know” is what triggers progressives to oppose a policy, we’d see them protesting around a totally different set of issues – drug laws, for example, as surely every progressive knows the victim of a bust. But they don’t get out of bed for things like that.

            In fact, progressives show an interesting tendency to protest on behalf of people they don’t know…even on behalf of people they AVOID.

            That’s one of the thing thats makes this all so curious. Progressives are quick to resist when diversity comes calling near their schools and their homes, but also quick to fight for diversity as an abstract idea.

          • King Goat

            Where do get such nonsense? Where progressives are most populous are some of the more diverse places in the country, and they say that’s why they’re there (see Richard Florida’s work on cities and the creative class, if common knowledge isn’t enough for you). One of the biggest affirmative action cases at SCOTUS involved uber-progressive city Seattle voluntarily trying to racially diversify their city schools.

    • King Goat

      “Barry deports 2.5 million people, but does it quietly, so no one cares. Donald deports a few thousand people while saying rude things about Mexicans, and everyone freaks out.Inescapable conclusion: most people don’t object to deportation, they just object to the way Donald talks.”

      Come on. You’re comparing eight years of deportations with a month’s worth.

      Imagine a sheriff in a town that arrests people for breaking the marihuana possession laws, but he also denounces the law and tries to no avail to get it repealed. Finally he says he’ll still enforce the law, but only against public toking while playing music too loud. At the next election a new sheriff, who campaigned loudly and often on ‘throwing the potheads in jail’ is elected. It’s hardly irrational or hypocritical if marihuana users in that county are more alarmed right after the election of the new sheriff.