June 20, 2007

DEVIL'S ADVOCATE

Surprise, surprise, Michael Moore thinks 9/11 was an inside job. The only thing he said that shocked me was at the end of his rant:

MOORE: See, I’m not very good at the physics and all that. But believe me, the questions need to be asked.

I'm amazed that he even admitted that he has no idea what he's talking about. You think that might have something to do with why he still has questions? But apparently it doesn't matter what the answer is, only that the question gets asked. Repeatedly. Reminds me of something Bill Whittle recently said (er, recently in Bill Whittle Time):

"We're just asking questions" was the official, voice-over disclaimer. You hear that too from the 9/11 Truth crowd when confronted with the lunacy of their claims. We're just asking questions... Well, in that vein I'd like to ask some questions myself. Is Michael Moore a serial pedophile? I'm just asking, and I'm sure a lot of my readers would just like to have some questions answered. I heard that Rosie O'Donnell ate a baby at a Satanic Ritual once -- is that true? Can you please provide the evidence that this did not in fact happen? Thanks. Who has murdered more hookers: Bill Maher or Charlie Sheen? Come on, you can't tell me there's no smoke there. I just want a possible explanation...

I think it's a rare gift to know how not smart you are. I've met way more people who think they're smarter than they are than people who underestimate themselves. And a sure sign of thinking you're hot stuff is to argue these stupid devil's advocate ideas.

My husband has had the delightful fortune of running into several people like this lately. These people don't know anything about economics or business, yet they claim that the Chinese are gonna screw us on treasury bonds. It could happen, I'm just sayin'. Do you know how these bonds work? Well, not exactly. These people don't know a Sunni from shinola, but they claim to know all sorts of stuff about Iraq's civil war. They don't know thing one about how corporations operate, but they sure do seem to know a lot about how well Halliburton is doing. I'm just sayin', as I shrug my shoulders and grimace, it's probably a war for oil. Your evidence? Oh, you have none. And you don't care enough to go find any either.

My husband and I decided it would be more pleasant to discuss these issues with Markos Moulitsas than with any one of these devil's advocate people. At least you know where you stand with Kos and you know he will bring his A game. But how do you carry on an intelligent discussion with someone who thinks Manufacturing Consent might be how the world works but doesn't know anything about business, the media, or even Noam Chomsky himself? Noam who? And what's a blog? Yeah, you're a prime candidate in a debate on the media's stranglehold.

Devil's advocate arguments are the refuge of the intellectually weak. If your whole side of the debate consists of question marks and I'm-just-sayin's, then you need to work a little harder. And you need to stop holding strong opinions about things you don't understand.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:26 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 "Devil's advocate arguments are the refuge of the intellectually weak." It comes as no surprise to me that we seem to see this approach taken by an uncomfortably large number of people from the entertainment industry; those who are paid to pretend they are someone/something other than themselves. The palpable failure of the news outlets to push back in interviews with these people using pointed questions based on undeniable facts gives them a free pass. The damage is done because too many of our fellow citizens are too wrapped up in trivialities to absorb and retain an informed, adult perspective on issues of consequence. Instead, they parrot foolishness from their favorite celebrity. There is a certain satisfaction in turning a committed leftist inside out with the facts. Beating someone's A-game has its own rewards. When the best someone has to offer is what Michael Moore or Rosie O'Donnell has to say, it is is simply depressing that anyone would offer "Well, so-and-so said that...." as a basis for taking a position.

Posted by: Bob at June 20, 2007 04:15 AM (m/kVw)

2 "Devil's advocate arguments are the refuge of the intellectually weak." Certainly, you do have to do more than say, "I'm just saying, what if..." but I think there is a lot of value from examining issues from both sides. And from asking the questions -- provided you are willing to search out answers that don't only support your hypothesis. Michael Moore is not a political scientist or an economist -- he's a filmmaker. At the end of the day, he's trying to sell tickets to films and that does, whether he wants to admit it or not, have some effect on what kind of work he does. But by the same token, no issue is black and white. And is what he does a bad thing if people use it as a way to educate themselves more, as opposed to taking his opinion (or any other's, for that matter) hook, line and sinker? I long for the good old days when debate was a mandatory subject in school. Arguing a point that you don't personally believe can be a remarkable learning experience. And the tools you learned in those exercises -- identifying rival hypotheses, understanding that there is a lot proof necessary for a direct cause/effect statement, keeping the argument valid and contained -- would certainly make for more worthwhile discussions today.

Posted by: Non-Essential Equipment at June 20, 2007 07:09 AM (ouGp8)

3 Excellent post, Sarah. Non-Essential...I agree with you that it would be very worthwhile for more kids to be exposed to debate (although some of today's trends in college debate, and even high school debate, are a trifle strange). The study of rhetoric was once considered an essential part of a liberal arts education. But when you say "no issue is black and white"...surely, there are factual issues that *are* black and white. Either Sam robbed the bank, or he did not. Either Atta and his crew crashed the plane into the building, or they did not. (Unless you are making a quantum-theory multiple-universes argument, which seems unlikely from the context) Arthur Koestler wrote an interesting piece on the whole nuance/shades-of-gray thing.

Posted by: david foster at June 20, 2007 05:09 PM (gguM0)

4 You are right -- there are factual issues that *are* black and white. Did Sam rob the bank? Sure, at the end of the day, there's only one right answer. But which answer we lean towards, naturally, is going to depend on how the evidence is presented and our own interpretation of that evidence. That's where, I believe, that devil's advocate can be useful. I liked the Koestler piece. But sometimes I wonder if the reason that there is so much attention paid to some of these crazy theories is because of the way the evidence was presented in the first place. Especially when it was presented in a "this is black, the end" kind of format. You have to admit that our executive branch is quite fond of absolutes.

Posted by: Non-Essential Equipment at June 20, 2007 09:26 PM (ouGp8)

5 non-essential...actually I don't agree that our executive branch is particularly fond of absolutes. For example, the phrase "axis of evil", which is often portrayed as Bush absolutism, is no more black-and-white than were the things said by FDR and Churchill about the Axis powers of their time.

Posted by: david foster at June 23, 2007 06:54 PM (gguM0)

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