Breeched Wales Bloviating in the Hot Sun

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Reverse Equivocation

I was over at No Treason reading a post by John Sabatta titled Jon Henke Sucks Ass. I followed the link over to Billy Beck to see what the fuss was about. Turns out it is about this quote from Henke:

"Here's the thing: maybe you know some way to engage in politics without compromising, but I don't. Actually, that's not quite true. There have been a few people who've done well without much in the way of compromise: Genghis Khan comes to mind. Stalin. Mao."

Beck took an alternate meaning of "politics" than intended and found the statement offensive.
And I actually have people asking me why I say this person is a "punk". We're talking about someone who will actually compare people who will not stoop to electoral politics with all the worst murderers in history.

Henke defends himself in the first comment at No Treason.
Look, I'm not particularly concerned with the apolitical stance you guys take. I sincerely wish you the best of luck with that.

But what Billy wrote is a lie. Perhaps he knows better and perhaps not, but if there's a shred of intellectual honesty among you, somebody will observe that I could NOT have been comparing Billy Beck, or any of you, to the aforementioned murderers. I explicitly stated that you have to be a ruthless totalitarian to be able to participate in politics without making compromises. In politics, you can either negotiate with your opponent, or kill him.

Billy Beck, et al, do NOT participate in politics. What's more, in that same post, I wrote of political conscientious objectors like yourselves: "I accept that. I even admire it".

On the narrow subject of what Jon Henke meant by "politics" in his Ghenghis Khan quote, I think Henke wins this fight and Beck loses. Billy Beck did misunderstand him, and uses his own personal equivocation to make his deduction. He equivocates on the meaning of "politics" in order to turn Henke's statement into a vile comparison. That form of reverse equivocation is no more than a straw man argument. You have to get the oppositions argument correct before you can refute it.

Was Beck wrong in his interpretation of Henke? Was he being reasonable? Let's see.

There is a longstanding tradition in Libertarianism to talk about "the political means" to refer to the use of force to impose ones will on others. In fact many "pure libertarians" refuse to join the LP precisely because they are "political parties". Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that Henke was using a definition similar to this when talking about libertarians and libertarianism? Especially, after Henke makes it clear? I think so.

This opinion is not shared by Beck. Even after being corrected by Henke he goes on to comment.
You're wrong, Henke. You don't know what you're talking about, and this episode is emblematic of your problem, which is mainly that you're simply ignorant.
I did not lie about anything, I made no mistake of understanding or anything else. The fact is that you have no idea what you wrote means. And the fact that you're such an ignoramus is what brought you to this strait. You're a strutting fool, with far more attitude than you're worth.

This is one incredibly beautiful example of screwy logic. He's claiming here that Henke doesn't know what he himself meant. Furthermorw, he is acting as if there is only one possible definition of the word "political". Is he merely calling Henke ignorant for using a different meaning of the word than the one he wishes to impute? No, he is going further than that. He's claiming there is only one possible definition and that Henke is an ignoramous for not knowing this.

Perhaps Beck is ignorant of the fact that the word "politics" has multiple definitions?

Lets look at the American Heritage entry for the word politics:

1. (used with a sing. verb) a. The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs. b. Political science. 2. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) a. The activities or affairs engaged in by a government, politician, or political party: “All politics is local” (Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr.). “Politics have appealed to me since I was at Oxford because they are exciting morning, noon, and night” (Jeffrey Archer). b. The methods or tactics involved in managing a state or government: The politics of the former regime were rejected by the new government leadership. If the politics of the conservative government now borders on the repressive, what can be expected when the economy falters? 3. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Political life: studied law with a view to going into politics; felt that politics was a worthwhile career. 4. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Intrigue or maneuvering within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power: Partisan politics is often an obstruction to good government. Office politics are often debilitating and counterproductive. 5. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Political attitudes and positions: His politics on that issue is his own business. Your politics are clearly more liberal than mine. 6. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society.

Beck is claiming that he meant version five. That isn't reasonable in light of the original context, the liberarian view of politics, and further in light of the fact that he was corrected by Henke in his comment as stated here.
So tell me, how exactly did I compare NON-participants to murderers? And how do you reconcile my *admiration* of principled non-participation with Billy's claim that I compared principled non-participation to murderers?

You can't. You simply can't. I informed Billy of his misapprehension. He blew it off. Now you know. If you can reconcile the clear meaning I gave with the fucked up, ass-backwards intent Billy infered, by all means, be my guest. But I think that, whatever your opinion of my political stance, you have both gotten this one badly wrong.

You don't owe me an apology. You don't owe me shit. But you owe it to yourself not to spread such a poor misunderstanding.

Was what Billy Beck wrote “a lie” as Henke claims. Well that depends on whether Beck knew the meaning that was intended at the time, doesn't it. If he knew then it was a lie. If not then perhaps it was just some form of reverse equivocation. A logical fallacy, sure, but not a lie. This leaves Beck in a quandary. Does he claim ignorance, or a poor grasp of logic?

Now personally I thought the meaning was clear from the context, so unless there is something strange about Beck's thought processes here. I don’t see how he could not know what Henke meant. Did he commit a fallacy, was he lying, or was this due to some other reason known only to him? I'm not going to fall into the trap Beck did however. I leave it up to Beck to tell us.

I do however form opinions and at this time my opinion is that Beck doesn't argue fairly, or with any sort of logical rigour. It is very hard to argue with someone who puts words in your mouth. You end up spending all your time defending your character and never on the point at hand. At some point Henke is just going to have to ignore him. My opinion will change the minute Beck apologizes to Henke. That, however, is going to be a tough pill to swallow after calling Henke a "punk".