Sunday 28 June 2009

More in Sorrow than in Anger: To Lew at Kiwipolitico

The Freedom of Speech: Norman Rockwell's famous illustration reminds us that it is the speech itself, and not the speaker, that we are obligated to contend with. Argument ad hominem (against the man) does not belong in the genuinely progressive person's rhetorical armoury.

NEVER has my conviction that engaging in personal debates on the Internet constitutes a truly fruitless enterprise been more painfully vindicated than in the posting I’m reluctantly responding to here.

Lew at Kiwipolitico disagrees with my stance on the Maori Party – fair enough. One of the truly great aspects of the Internet is that through websites and blogs such as these it really is possible to let a "thousand schools of thought contend". And if Lew had been willing to leave it at that I’d have had no problem with his posting.

But, he wasn’t.

Repeatedly, in his postings on Kiwipolitico, Lew has responded to articles and/or postings I have displayed here at Bowalley Road not by honestly confronting the arguments I have put forward, but with personal abuse and gross misrepresentation.

His latest posting, here, is the worst instance so far. In it he accuses me of "repeated denial and denigration of indigenous rights" and "denying that women should be free of sexual predation as of right".

Let me first state that I deny these charges absolutely, and defy any reasonable person, having read the postings on this blog, to draw such outrageous conclusions from them. Anyone who knows me, or has followed my writings over the years, will affirm that while I may have strong (and perfectly legitimate) disagreements with the followers of identity politics, I have never argued against the rights of women or indigenous peoples – nor denigrated any person for doing so.

It is ironic that Lew’s article should be headed up "Brogressives and Fauxgressives" because his own conduct casts serious doubt over whether he is now entitled to any sort of claim to the title of "progressive".

The essence of progressivism is its insistence on rationality – as the only tested method of fully comprehending reality; and its insistence on speaking the truth – as a counter to the lies and misrepresentations of those who seek to obscure reality for their own self-interested purposes.

But this is precisely what Lew is guilty of doing. Rather than attempt to test the truth of the statements I have made on this blog (statements made in good faith, I might add, and with the intention of helping both myself and my readers to more closely approach the truth) Lew has told lies about me. Moreover, he has told those lies with the aim of discrediting me – a fellow human-being – not the arguments I have put forward.

By resorting to these arguments ad hominem; and by conceiving and executing them in bad faith and with what appears to be malicious intent, Lew has effectively cast himself beyond the pale of the entire progressive community – perverting what is clearly a very fine intellect in the process.

I write this more in sorrow than in anger, fully acknowledging that I am as capable as anyone of becoming enraged, and of indulging in behaviour which, upon more sober reflection, was clearly insupportable. I must confess to responding in this way more than once to Lew’s postings. I guess the big difference between myself and Lew, though, is that on the one occasion when I foolishly gave vent to my anger, and posted the result on this blog, I quickly regretted my actions and deleted the offending material as grossly unfair to Lew – a person I had not met, and who certainly did not deserve the ad hominem attack I had leveled against him.

I just wish Lew possessed the decency to have done the same.


Thomas Beagle said...

Your "more in sorrow than in anger" pose is absolutely adorable. I'd ruffle your hair in an instant.

Chris Trotter said...

Hmmm? "Pose". Not quite sure how to take that Mr Beagle. But, what the heck, a ruffle is a ruffle - so you just go ahead and ruffle away.

Francisco Hernandez said...

I think he meant "prose."

SeaJay said...

playing the man and not the ball Mr Beagle?

Lew said...

Dear Chris,

Enough shouting from the rooftops.

My initial Whanganui posting, although it wasn't directed at you, set the tone for our discourse, and I concede I have done nothing to de-escalate. However the responsibility for maintaining such a tone hasn't been all mine, and neither has the employment of ad-hominem. While I have, even in such heated tones, attempted to engage with the matter of your posts, you have consistently refused to do so with mine, perhaps thinking them (or me) beneath contempt.

I accept that my most recent post was immoderate. You did redact the Fiji Agonistes post, and in the same spirit I've disclaimed my offensive comments about you in the last post. I won't delete it (I won't pretend I never said it), but please accept my apologies, for what they're worth. I went too far, and I attacked your political credentials instead of your argument. It's as you say; I've allowed the lower standards of discourse prevalent on the internet to impinge upon my arguments, and that's not only something I dislike, but something Kiwipolitico is expressly supposed to not be about. So, my apologies.

Nevertheless, shorn of all the rhetoric and of that offensive characterisation of you, the former section of the post remains what I think. Let me be clear: I apologise for the tone and imputation, but not for the core argument. No matter how much working-class solidarity one has, it is not enough to qualify as 'progressive' if one does not support the rights of diverse groups to define their own political agendas and make their own political way. This is the key thing: it's not that I "disagree with your stance on the māori party"; it's that I disagree that one can claim that all political agendas must be subjugated to a broader agenda and still call one's movement progressive.

Your postings here and published articles on the h debate and the māori party's decision to enter government with National have not so much criticised the facts of the agenda as questioned the entitlement of Māori leaders to make the decisions they consider to be right for their constituents. It's one thing to object to a given decision but affirm their right to make it - Gordon Campbell's recent post on the māori party does just this - but it's quite another to decry leaders in the tino rangatira movement as kupapa, traitors, ethnic cleansers or enemies of the people when they are enacting their constituents' wishes. Likewise for the Green movement. By the same token, it is one thing to contextualise Richard Worth's behaviour as a rake of a certain age while affirming it is something up with which people should not have to put, and quite another to excuse sexual harrassment as "a thing men do" with the suggestion that women who object that, by rights, they shouldn't have to put up with it are not "grown up", or are panty-waisted eternal victims who just need to harden the fuck up.

These are the two examples where you've cut down other power minorities rather than supporting them, apparently with the justification that their agendas detract from the larger mainstream NZ leftist agenda based primarily (it seems) around competing with National on their own terms for their own centrist ideological demographic. In the first place, presumably because support for Māori will scare the redneck horses; and in the second example presumably on the basis that support for feminism will raise the hairy-legged spectre of political correctness behind the left again, as it was under Helen Clark. These are sound political strategies for a movement without principle, but how are they progressive? Why do we want the rednecks and the anti-PC brigade on-side? Should not the purpose of the progressive movement be to norm such behaviour out of existene? What value is the hollow victory of appeasement?

I invite you, more cordially this time, to engage with these more fundamental questions, and I hope you will do so in good faith on the promise that my future discourse will be more civil.

Lewis Stoddart

Chris Trotter said...

Thank-you Lew, and be assured of my determination to address all of the issues you have raised in your generous comment.

I hope you will forgive me, however, if I do so indirectly - rather than mano-a-mano.

As this rather fraught exchange has proved, the Internet is not well suited to calm and rational one-on-one debates.

If you look back over my postings you will see that I have already responded to many of the issues raised in your own postings - and this will continue.

I believe much more is accomplished by rigorously separating the issues from the individuals raising them, than from a straightforward head-to-head confrontation.

Now, I know I have not followed my own advice in regard to Steve Cowan at Against the Current, but I think it's important to point out in regard to those postings that Steve and I are members of the same ideological iwi (albeit from different hapu!) which seems to make such exchanges easier.

And yet, even in these circumstances, there is still a real danger of generating more heat than light.

Always, and above everything else, Lew, it's the ideas that matter.

So let us set our ideological lances, and bid the jousting begin.

Laissez aller!

Chris Trotter said...

To Marty Mars.

The whole substance of this exchange between myself and Lew seems to have gone right over your head, Mr Mars.

Read the Bowalley Road Rules and try again.

relic said...

Imagine the gymnastics if Kiwipolitico were Kiwiphilosoco...

Marty Mars said...

"Repeatedly, in his postings on Kiwipolitico, Lew has responded to articles and/or postings I have displayed here at Bowalley Road not by honestly confronting the arguments I have put forward, but with personal abuse and gross misrepresentation."

I haven't missed the point and i have read your rules, actually mr trotter. You have complained about Lew attacking the man not the ball. I pointed out to you that that is what you do with your personal, nasty attacks on the leadership of the maori party, therefore you are being precious and disingenous in acting all upset. What's the problem with that?

I also pointed out that non-maori who attack maori with maori concepts and words display irony. is that wrong?

I think i'm on topic but the difference is I'm saying things about you that you don't like.

Fair enough if you delete my contribution - i am after all a nobody and it is your blog.

Chris Trotter said...

You are indeed on topic Mr Mars, and shorn of all the personal abuse, your comment is perfectly acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris-

I just want to say thankyou for engaging with Lew on this, even if it took a lot of yelling to make it happen. I'm siding with him, (for reasons that would take its own blog post to explain, so perhaps I'll think about doing that) but it would be nice if we on the left could at least sit down and have discussions on the things we disagree about and come to some sort of understanding, if agreement is out of the question.

It's certainly a tough line to walk between getting a more progressive government and asserting the independence of one's political movement and one's vote: How can left parties be truly independent of each other if we start acting as a bloc? Essentially you end up with a situation like what National and Act were in before this election, where they keep cannabilising votes off each other to make up for a lack of substantive differences.

Anyway, I hope you'll keep chipping away at this and perhaps in time we can come to a position where the Greens and the Maori Party and Labour can actually form a government together and start remembering a bit more about what we have in common. Or maybe someone bright will figure out something that brings collectivists like yourself and individualists like me together. You never know. :)