Crying Foul: When Facts Fall First

Cathy Young wrote a terrific op-ed for the New York Times. The subject was one familiar to any regular reader, that the Title IX campus adjudication system is deeply flawed. While the op-ed didn’t break any new ground, it was a solid, well-supported piece of writing. It wasn’t meant as, and didn’t go to, the deeper legal flaws in the system, but was limited to the undoing of the “Dear Colleague” letters. No bombs were thrown.

It was, frankly, impressive that the New York Times published Cathy’s op-ed, given the efforts it’s made to promote the sad “survivor” stories which may very well be sad, but have nothing to do with the propriety of the bureaucratic issuance of “Dear Colleague” letters to re-engineer the law to align with a radical agenda, or the lack of due process it produced. Granted, the Times is running about a thousand to one on the balance meter, but still, they published it.

And in appreciation, Cathy received comments like this:


I can’t imagine that Cathy would be bothered by such an absurd comment. It’s not the first time she’s been called names, and it won’t be the last. This is merely the sort of thing one endures when opining publicly these days. Cathy is tough. She won’t lose sleep over such nonsense.

But what this insipid attack raises is a glimpse into the mindset of the attacker, who is unfortunately typical of a new breed of deeply passionate, and completely unhinged,* believers. This is ad hominem** nonsense, but more importantly, this has become an acceptable, if not totally normal, mode of argument, as if there is something in there that an intelligent person would accept as a rational argument. Cathy argued facts and logic. This comment calls her a name in return.

So what? That someone called Cathy a name doesn’t shift the burden to compel her to disprove she is not a “rape-apologist.” But for those who disagree with Cathy, rightly or wrongly, this is good enough. There is no longer an expectation of critical thought. There is just mindless tribalism, and the tribe that believes one way hates anyone who doesn’t.

At the Huffington Post Blog. grad student Lauren Leydon-Hardy sought to take down Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis for the outrage of her op-eds about Title IX.

In her piece, Kipnis opines that menopausal administrators have begun to cultivate an air of moral panic within the hallowed walls of higher learning. These hysterical, hormonally besot women have, according to Kipnis, the undue influence of inculcating to our students an entitled attitude of victimhood. The result is that today’s students are so pathetically “vulnerable” that they require their educators cosset them through those formative years. The whole thing is, to Kipnis’ mind, embarrassing.

There are a lot of adjectives in there without quotation marks. There’s a reason. Leydon-Hardy laid it on thick to impute self-loathing misogyny to Kipnis, key words that are specifically directed toward women that the woke will immediately recognize as outrageous sexism. Except Kipnis never said any of this. It comes from Leydon-Hardy, and reflects her effort to infuse sexism into the argument. It’s inflammatory to the tribe she’s trying to inflame.

To the reader who recognizes this ploy, it works the opposite way. It’s obvious that these are Leydon-Hardy’s characterizations, not Kipnis’, and it’s obvious that her heavy hand with adjectives are used to compensate for her lack of nouns and quotation marks. She’s shown herself to be unworthy of credit. But her tribe gets none of this.

But Kipnis’ op-ed was alarmingly inaccurate.

If that first sentence was true, beyond being hyperbolic, then the next sentence should have proven the claim. What did Kipnis say? Why was it inaccurate? Instead, this is what follows:

And immediately after its publication, several individuals reached out to her directly to correct the myriad misrepresentations of fact that she harmfully published as gospel. Kipnis acknowledged these emails, but refused to correct the record, suggesting instead that folks simply agree to disagree. That’s a strange response, a bit like telling a math tutor that you “agree to disagree,” or a civil engineer who’s concerned about the integrity of your bridge, or… you get the point. When someone in a position to know reaches out to let you know that you’re off base, one tends to think the appropriate response is anything but Kipnis’.

It’s inaccurate because “several” people reached out to correct her? And shockingly, even though Kipnis “acknowledged” the claim by several individuals that they disagreed with her, she did not acquiesce to their will and change her view? Plus some analogies.

What’s notable is that the concept of what constitutes a substantive argument for one’s position is lost to people like the commenter who called Cathy Young a rape apologist or Leydon-Hardy. They believe otherwise, and that is all they’ve got. This has become a substitute for actual reasons.

And if the message isn’t clear enough. Leydon-Hardy doubled down:

I know about these correspondences because I’m a member of the department at Northwestern from which Kipnis misleadingly culled her paradigm example of this menacing “sexual paranoia” overtaking the academy.

Missing from this assertion of personal knowledge is that she also has a horse in the race, being one of the students who complained about Kipnis’ violation of Title IX. Personal knowledge, at least presented without concealing one’s motives, is a sound basis for arguing that another person’s view is wrong, or their recitation of facts is flawed. Indeed, if someone lies about a fact, a dispute by someone with personal knowledge can serve to reveal the truth.

But it’s not truth because one side disputes another. It’s not truth because you want it to be true because it confirms your feelings. And it’s most assuredly not true because one infuses the contention with prejudicial characterizations intended to rally one’s tribe. Yet, this has become the standard mode of argument.

If you wonder why outsiders to your tribe don’t seem to “get it,” don’t flip their views when called names or exposed to your most passionate beliefs, this is why. You are entitled to believe whatever you want. This is America, and it’s your right to believe as you will. But that doesn’t mean anyone else has to throw off their views and embrace yours, because you feel very, very strongly about it.

If you want your view to be respected, earn it. If you want others to come to your view, give them reasons instead of feelings. If you don’t want people to dismiss your credibility, don’t deceive, whether by commission or omission. And if the best you’ve got is your very passionate cries and inflammatory adjectives, don’t be surprised that no one finds you persuasive. You’ve got nothing. Just because it’s you, or someone who shares your feelings, does not absolve them from being honest, accurate and substantive.

*I was informed the other day that calling an unhinged woman unhinged is sexist. If that’s what you believe, then I must be sexist. I don’t give a damn.

**Yet again, for the sake of the terminally intellectually challenged, this is an ad hominem attack: You are stupid, therefore your argument is stupid. Your argument is stupid, therefore you are stupid, is not.

8 comments on “Crying Foul: When Facts Fall First

  1. wilbur

    Please feel free to refer to Tracy from Columbia, MO as unhinged. It’s the only reasonable conclusion.

    Tracy, day after day, when you’re this way, I get a sinkin’ feeling. (With apologies to Tommy Roe)

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      I feel free to use pretty much any word I want to use. The political correctness scolds can wring their hands, scold me all they want and scream about how horrifying it is that I won’t succumb to the sensibilities. I don’t care.

      Reply
      1. Ron Skurat

        Hear, hear! I got a nice lecture last month from my brother-in-law about the word ‘retarded.’

        You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.

        Reply
        1. SHG Post author

          Retarded is an interesting word. I think it’s enormously useful when used as a medical characterization, and I kinda hate it when used as an epithet. At least when used as a slur, it’s used as a slur.

          I learned the other day that it’s a misogynystic dogwhistle to call a woman “unhinged.” So the problem isn’t the word, per se, and you can use it for a guy, but you can’t use it for a woman, because it’s sexist. That’s retarded.

          Reply
    2. Marc Whipple

      Also, she doesn’t know what the word “disingenuous” means, which is a totally non-sexist reason to call her unhinged. Because in my lived experience, people who use big words and don’t know what they mean are usually unhinged.

      Reply
  2. David

    Re ** it was an ad femina attack. Please, be politically correct and translate the Latin to reflect Ms. Young’s gender…

    Reply

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