Saturday, May 16, 2009

More on the Gentlemen’s Agreement and my responses to Auster’s response to my post








In an
article on his blog, Auster writes:

Note: My quoting of Hesperado in this entry should not be taken as an expression of approval of him, or as acceptance of his past inappropriate behavior and attacks on me, some of which are referenced and discussed here.

Auster is misusing the word attack (Ive noticed Robert Spencer also misuse it many times in roughly the same way). Or, it can be said, if he is only using it in the one way which a dictionary defines itthe one way of many which, for example, The American Heritage Dictionary provides: to criticize stronglyhe is over-reacting; for no reasonable person would withhold approval or acceptance of someone if all they did was to strongly criticize them. Thus, its safe to say that Auster is conflating strongly criticize with the other meanings provided by the dictionary, such as to criticize... hostilely or in its form as substantive, a hostile comment or an assault.

The evidence he provides for my purported attack is a link to a series of articles. I challenge any reader to find any hostility or assaults there. No reasonable reader would find them there.

A couple of the articles on that Google list simply represent the present one under consideration, so they can be dismissed. Others on that list are laughably insubstantial, such as this one, while this one simply reproduces Austers unremarkably approving citation of one of my articles. Articles such as this one only note Auster's highly tendentious subjective interpretation of my supposed attacks on him, referring to the second article on the list which seems to be the only one approaching substance. This one is an article whose allegations by him about me accusing him of being a gnostic (and other allegations, like his insinuation that I must not be an opponent of the Left based on an apparently breezily inaccurate reading of one of my essays) I already refuted at length and which in my estimation he ultimately failed to respond to adequately (see the full transcript here). Yes, my wondering about Austers view of true conservatism having some consanguinity with gnosticism could be said to be a strong criticismbut not a hostile criticism or an assault on him (much less a dishonest, sneakily meanspirited, and contorted attack on him)at least not by a reasonable person. It is ironic that in this present article of his, Auster after getting done strongly criticizing Spencer (and others who seem to be collluding in the Gentlemens Agreement which was the subject of my article which Auster is analyzing), hastens to add:

Let me add that I write the above not in a spirit of attacking anyone, but in a spirit of trying to understand.

I guess Auster can strongly criticize people but not be attacking them, but when other people do it to him, they automatically get accused of attacking him. Had I written of Austers truly odd and inexplicable behavior with regard to whatever he might have said or doneas he does with regard to Spencer but not, he assures us, as anattack, Auster likely would have had the reflex spasm of accusing me of attacking him.

Bottom line: The word attackis a red alarm bell, a loaded weapon in rhetoric, and should be used sparingly and with accurate precision, not glibly tossed around everytime someone proffers a strong yet maturely worded criticism of ones analyses.

Spencer also has this penchant to misuse words and indulge in hyperbole and to call any and all criticism that crosses an invisible (and hypersensitively defined) line of unacceptability as an
attack when arguing with someone: no wonder Spencer and Auster had such a monstrous falling out, with each side escalating in accusing the other of exaggerated abuses. The Spencer-Auster fallout was not like the recent Spencer-Johnson fallout, where one of the persons involved (Johnson) is a demonstrably grotesque lunatic. Rather, the Spencer-Auster fallout seems to have involved two otherwise sincere, intelligent mature individuals who nevertheless have a difficult time moderating their languageand also a difficult time accurately reading their opponentsuch that it escalates into emotional and rhetorically complex tangles until it becomes a showdown from which only one can win. With Johnson, the escalation had to do with substancei.e., the substance of his grotesquely wrong position. With Auster and Spencer, I think most of the problem was the irrelevant sparks and fire tangential to, but overpowering, the light of the actual debate they were ostensibly having.

At any rate, to continue quoting from the present article by Auster:

Also, the fact that he compliments me in the article [i.e., my article which Auster is writing about] and even presents me in part as his standard bearer means nothing to me and is not the reason I quote him.

Again, Auster is misusing a wordhere, the term standard bearer, which The American Heritage Dictionary defines as an outstanding leader or representative. I defy any reader of elementary intelligence and comprehension to read my article and come away with the impression that I consider Auster an ouststanding leader or representativenot even in part. I note in my article that [t]he only person who has put forth a clear public notice of this Bawer problem and has offered an analysis of it has been Lawrence Auster on his blog...Then a little later I write that Austers analysis is good within the confines of his delimitation of it... (and I even add a parenthetical qualification of this). Finally, I discuss the situation of Auster having become a kind of persona non grata in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement, and argue that this has been apparently unfair, particularly as contrasted with the non-existence of any criticism of Bawer who did something far worse (namely, agree with Charles Johnson about fascism). Nowhere in this is any sense that I consider Auster my standard bearer. Auster seems to have a penchant for hyperbole, vividly exaggerating now one way, now the opposite way.

Hesperado says that I have been the only person to write about Bawer's article (which I did), but since I am persona non grata in the "official" anti-jihad movement (by which Hesperado means basically Robert Spencer and his circle, leaving out other anti-jihadists who do not regard me as persona non grata)...

Auster puts official in quotes, but my word was precisely the opposite: unofficial. And the full quote of what I said underscores this:

As Auster, however, has become a kind of persona non grata among the informal and unofficial elite leadership of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement...

I
m sure there are other anti-jihadists who do not regard Auster as persona non grata: but do they occupy that role of informal and unofficial elite leadership? At any rate, these are not scientific terms, mainly for the reason that the phenomenon they describe is itself inchoate. If Auster enjoys any substantively cordial intercourse with any significant anti-jihadists who could be said by any stretch of the definition to occupy a role in the inchoate pantheon of an informal and unofficial leadership, then Auster would likely already be privy to the mystery surrounding Bawers immunity from censure or even normal critique. Since he is as baffled as I am, one can assume his anti-jihadist friends are not part of the inner circle, however inchoate and informal and unofficial that inner circle might be.

This incidentally cuts to a crucial aspect of the problem of this Gentlemen
s Agreement: its inchoatenessits very lack of form and transparencyseems to be part of its unilateral arrogation by a loose (though mutually loyal) affiliation of individuals: i.e., this loose affiliation has decided to make procedural decisionson policy matters both internal and externalon behalf of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement, without any process of developing a discussion about it and then a consensus except, apparently, as transacted in private emails amongst themselves. Nor have they shown any signs of being interested in phasing the movement into a more transparent and democraticand therefore ultimately a healthier and more effective organization. Over six months ago, I published an essay that laid out the problem and possible solutions to thisThe Anti-Islam Movement: Prospectus for Improvement. (Subsequently, I amplified it in two more essays.) What have I heard since then about this? Crickets chirping and a whistling wind moving tumbleweeds along the empty streets of the Blogosphere.

Continuing with
Austers article:

Hesperado throughout misspells Diana West's name as Diane; I have corrected the spelling...

I had noticed I misspelled it a few days after I had posted it, and had already corrected all instances of it several days ago, before Auster published his article.

The above aside, Auster adds a nicely juicy example of the odd pretzelly contortions characteristic of the Gentlemans Agreement about which I wrote:

...for example, how Spencer remained friendly with Johnson even as Johnson was attacking Spencer's friends Diana West and Andrew Bostom as fascist sympathizers and attaccking his contributor Fjordman as a racist, and how Spencer was never criticized for this; and many equally odd and inappropriate happenings. Yet, as Hesperado points out, when I made criticisms of Spencer that were vastly less serious and damaging than Johnson's attacks on West, Bostom, and Fjordman, I was treated as a threat to the movement, Fjordman called me "immoral," and Pamela Geller portrayed me as the equivalent of Charles Johnson--I, who had written many articles exposing Johnson's false charges against Filip DeWinter, Paul Belien, and Diana West during the very period when Spencer was maintaining his palship with Johnson and calling him "illustrious."

Quoting me from my articleBawer in his little article also maintains a mature and ostensibly intelligent deportment, but the substance of his article is the problem: coming down decidedly in Charles Johnsons favorAuster inserts a bracketed comment:

This misstates things. Bawer didn't simply side with Johnson. His article consisted of his own (albeit wrong-headed and hysterical) cri de coeur against the incipient evil he imagines he sees in the anti-jihad movement.

I could have fleshed out Bawers problematic substance, but to me it is eminently adequate to say of someone that they come down decidedly in Charles Johnsons favor to sufficiently damn them, since among other deranged things, Johnson has been issuing regular jeremiads against the incipient evil he imagines he sees in the anti-jihad movement. Anyone who at this stage of the game comes down decidedly on Johnsons side on the fascist issue (which is the crux of the evil being imagined in Johnsons paranoia) would be obviously guilty of the same thing.

Auster in his article reproduces my quotation of my brief exchange with Baron Bodissey on this issue, and Auster nicely describes the problem of Bodisseys response:

...the issue is the substantive behavior which Hesperado wants to know about: why is the movement ignoring Bawer's attack, instead of exposing it, as they ought to be doing? It's a legitimate question, And Bodissey refuses to answer, except to declare loftily that he doesn't write about Bawer because he doesn't write about him. Which is no answer at all. Which is what gets Hesperado riled up.

...Bodissey's lofty response to Hesperado. You'd think that Bodissey actually was a European baron, instead of an American guy writing a blog.

(Lest Auster get the mistaken, exaggerated notion that I am here (and elsewhere in todays essay where I approvingly note this or that thing he has written) suddenly praising him to the skies as my standard bearer, I now iterate the unremarkable truism that just as one can strongly criticize someone without attacking them, one can also note with approval anything they happen to say or do without thus putting them on a pedestal: an elementary corrective to such a binary, if not bipolar, framework.)

Moving on, Auster probes more deeply the psychological mechanics of the Gentlemens Agreement:

The main figures in the anti-jihad movement have distinct personal flaws, quirks, and vanities, as all of us do. But these quirks and vanities are exacerbated by what seems to be the "prime directive" that is followed by the main figures of the movement, which is to maintain total, phalanx-like solidarity with each other and never criticize each other's ideas, or each other.

This, however, doesnt include the two more odd twists of the pretzel: The first is that the prime directive of maintaining at all costs the phalanx-like solidarity was violated by Bawer who in his publication on his blog fundamentally criticized not only his fellow anti-jihadists but his supportersand did not merely fundamentally criticize them, but did so in the context of agreeing with Charles Johnson who had recently acted with such grotesque egregiousness that the Phalanx broke its own Prime Directive and publically condemned him and expelled him. And yet, the Phalanx has not even published one critical discussion of Bawer, let alone has it condemned him. (This, indeed, is part of the pathology of the Phalanx: it tends to confuse critiqueseven maturely and intelligently framed critiquesas attacks and tantamount to condemnation anyway, as Auster apparently does as well.) This odd twist of the pretzel with Bawer is only the latest manifestation of a trait that has become typical of the Phalanx, as my previous article and Austers response discussed.

The second odd twist is that when Auster or when I have written critiques of Spencermaturely and intelligently framed, even if perceived to be annoyingly persistentthe Phalanx seemed to have little difficulty in publically condemning us. And yet, Bawers single and short publication was more egregious and far worseby virtue of coming down decidedly in Charles Johnsons favor against all the valiant anti-jihadists in Europe putting their lives and reputations on the linethan all my one-hundred and thirty-six Jihad Watch Watch articles critiquing Spencers methodology combined, and when compared with the critiques Auster wrote. The only logical explanation for this particular twist of the pretzel is that the Phalanx considers Bawer that much more important than me or Auster. This would be logical, but it is not rational. The grotesquely monstrous transmogrification of Charles Johnson makes it eminently irrational to thus continue to favor Bawer.

Conclusion:

Again, as I said in my previous article, I am not calling for the unofficial leadership of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement to issue an Anathema of Bawer: all I am reasonably expecting is a response to Bawer in the form of a mature and intelligent discussion about it, with Bawer himself of course included, out in the air and sunshine of the public arena. This basic human response, in keeping with the noble tradition and culture of Western democracy, is apparently beyond the ability or taste of the self-appointed Aristocracy of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement.

9 comments:

awake said...

"I guess Auster can strongly criticize people but not be “attacking” them, but when other people do it to him, they automatically get accused of “attacking” him."

You are correct.

"With Auster and Spencer, I think most of the problem was the irrelevant sparks and fire tangential to, but overpowering, the light of the actual debate they were ostensibly having."

I disagree. Spencer and Auster, while "debating" semi-privately, the actual exchanges were not accurately reflected in public by Auster at his blog. They were out of context and highly selective at best. Unless Auster leaves the confines of his blog, there is no true debate with him, ever. That is why you are forced to defend yourself against Auster's criticism of you here.

"The only logical explanation for this particular twist of the pretzel is that the Phalanx considers Bawer that much more important than me or Auster."

I do not know if this is true or not, but it seems like a logical conclusion. In your estimation, should the "phalanx" adapt and declare Bawer persona non grata based on his article about Johnson?

Erich said...

awake,

In your estimation, should the "phalanx" adapt and declare Bawer persona non grata based on his article about Johnson?As I said in my two articles:

"I am not calling for the unofficial leadership of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement to issue an Anathema of Bawer: all I am reasonably expecting is a response to Bawer in the form of a mature and intelligent discussion about it, with Bawer himself of course included, out in the air and sunshine of the public arena."

And:

"I am not necessarily calling on the elite leadership of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement to summarily declare Bawer anathema. All I am calling on them to do is move the problem out of their smoke-filled back rooms where peons and peasants of the movement are not permitted access, and bring it out into the sunshine of frank discussion."

Erich said...

awake,

You quoting me: "With Auster and Spencer, I think most of the problem was the irrelevant sparks and fire tangential to, but overpowering, the light of the actual debate they were ostensibly having."

You: "I disagree. Spencer and Auster, while "debating" semi-privately, the actual exchanges were not accurately reflected in public by Auster at his blog. They were out of context and highly selective at best."

I'd be more inclined to agree with you, if I hadn't experienced first-hand Spencer egregiously and repeatedly committing both faults against me -- namely, during an email blitz he (and you) directed my way, accusing me of "attacking" him when I was only critiquing his ideas; and then on top of that misreading what I wrote and building upon his misreading to magnify his misunderstanding of what I wrote. He kept doing this even after I patiently, calmly, maturely and intelligently presented detailed arguments showing him how he had misread me -- not to mention that he also peppered his faults with a few snotty cheeky snide ad hominem remarks here and there. (Not to mention that he is on record, at least before his more aloof comportment in the last six months or so keeping himself out of the JW comments sections (perhaps he has recently been taking the same medication that has calmed the nerves of his friend Morgaan Sinclair), repeatedly accusing commenters on Jihad Watch of "attacking" him both using that very word and other synonyms and locutions expressing a similarly trigger-happy quasi-persecution complex.)

It is amusingly ironic that you too were part of that email blitz directed my way, the two of you showering me with emails bristling and chock-full with the aforementioned two faults (+ the snotty cheeky snide ad hominem remarks) and the two of you of course cc-ing each other and forwarding each other to me, etc. And now you're trying to sell me the idea that Spencer in private emails is to be assumed to be the model of mature debate. Excuse me while I laugh my ass off.

Seeing how Spencer comported himself in that non-public context, I can only imagine when he and Auster started having a copious email exchange what a horrible mess of complex piles of poo those two grown children created against each other.

awake said...

Erich,

Thanks for the clarification on the first part about Bawer. You were clear and I don't know why I asked further.

The second part, although not so inclined to agree, I understand it is a touchy and personal subject with Spencer, and that was long, long before the email blitz, arriving sometime before your 100 + articles dedicated to "critiquing" Robert Spencer on your now defunct JWW blog.

Personal matters aside, you cannot disagree with my assessment of the way that Auster publicly and dishonestly skewers his interlocutors. Spencer may reply publicly in comment form at JW, though rarely, but Auster creates a fictional discussion. The marked differences between the email exchanges and what appeared publicly at VFR confirm that.

Also, you are forced to respond here on your blog because Auster won't publish your direct comments anymore, or if he does, will be revised as he sees fits.

Erich said...

awake,

"I understand it is a touchy and personal subject with Spencer, and that was long, long before the email blitz"

This obscures my main point: Had Spencer, during that email blitz, comported himself maturely and not so egregiously immaturely and unreasonably, I would be more inclined to consider that his role in the Auster-Spencer debacle was minimal and certainly less culpable than Auster's. However, Spencer's conduct during that email episode with me demonstrates to me that Spencer more likely than not became a co-dependent facilitator of Auster's own faults in communication & discussion. Both Spencer and Auster, as I said in my essay here, share two faults:

1) exaggerating criticism into "attacks"

2) misreading -- or stubbornly ignoring -- what their interlocutors say.

Then when you add to this mix the apparent fact that both of them have peculiar ego problems, the whole thing gets out of hand.

"Personal matters aside, you cannot disagree with my assessment of the way that Auster publicly and dishonestly skewers his interlocutors."

I don't think Auster is being "dishonest". He just has a defect in analytical ability (mostly comprised of the two faults listed above) compounded by some strange personality problem that is fused with his peculiar sociopolitical hobby horses (here that term is apt, unlike when Spencer and Fitzgerald snidely applied it to me). This defect plus what compounds it results in the way he treats the ideas of various people. I think it is all sincere, and I don't think he purposefully lies in order to attack people.

"Auster creates a fictional discussion. The marked differences between the email exchanges and what appeared publicly at VFR confirm that."

I can't rely on your claim of this, without seeing for myself the non-public email exchanges and comparing them with the public debate.

"Spencer may reply publicly in comment form at JW, though rarely"

I can't believe you really think this, you who have apparently become over a long period of time an assiduously vigilant watcher of Jihad Watch and its commenters. For at least two or three solid years (perhaps longer), Spencer frequently would pop up in various different comments fields on JW -- like a shark suddenly surfacing in blue waters upon nearly any comment that seemed critical of him and/or his ideas or approach. After a while, I became impressed by his seemingly 24/7 response time, particularly when one takes into account how otherwise busy he must be with his travels, attendance at various seminars, debates, meetings with various peoples, and his own study time on Islam. And often when the commenter pressed and expanded his critical remark after Spencer had popped in to reply, Spencer would pop in again and again, thus generating a kind of mini-debate between Spencer and the other commenter -- or sometimes commenters in the plural -- within a given comments field. A few of my later Jihad Watch Watch articles deal extensively with such comments fields.

As for the present, it has only been in the last few months where Spencer no longer pops up anymore -- or only at extremely rare intervals and never anymore to take umbrage in his characteristically prickly way. Indeed, I have conjectured that you may have played a role in this, in effect convincing him that it is better for the overall mission of JW if Spencer just ignore comments that either are "attacking" him or seem to be "attacking" him. Or perhaps he has become in the last few months extraordinarily busy, to a degree he has never been busy before. Who knows why this change has occurred, but whatever the reason, it is remarkable and unprecedented. It also has had the refreshing effect of making the atmosphere at JW comments fields less tense, no longer bristling with the constant threat by Spencer, Fitzgerald and Marisol of banning people who do not "behave".

Which brings me to your last blatantly misleading point.

"Also, you are forced to respond here on your blog because Auster won't publish your direct comments anymore, or if he does, will be revised as he sees fits."

Spencer hasn't been much better: in the old days (before a few months ago) he imbued the discussion atmosphere -- whenever anyone had anything substantively critical to say and out of their intellectual conscience pressed their criticism whenever they found Spencer's brusque retorts inadequate -- with a hostile threat of banning if his dialogue partner didn't "behave". And in addition to that, he was comporting himself in the discussions themselves with the two faults I mentioned above -- 1) exaggerating criticism into "attacks" and 2) misreading -- or stubbornly ignoring -- what their interlocutors say; making what debates one could have with Spencer more often than not of unacceptable quality.

In the new days of the last few months, Spencer doesn't even bother to respond to hardly anything. So these days simply being able to post at JW doesn't do much good and isn't much different from not being able to get through the Auster Filter. And in the old days, while some actual discussions took place between Spencer and various commenters who had various criticisms or less than that, sincerely critical questions, those discussions were not conducted by him in the spirit that makes the West great:

1) open and frank discussion;

2) no threat (explicit or implicit) of punishment for any criticism no matter how strong or persistent it is, as long as it is maturely and intelligently expressed;

3) and lastly, a demonstrated willingness and ability by both parties to rationally respond to what their interlocutors are actually saying, which includes patiently reformulating any formulations that your interlocutor argues are not adequate to his previous questions and/or criticisms.

I documented and analyzed at Jihad Watch Watch how Spencer failed at all three, and failed at #3 far more than his interlocutors in the discussions in question. And there were many more similar episodes from my memory at JW in those years which I didn't take the time and trouble to document and analyze.

At any rate, given Spencer's innate faults when he gets involved in arguments, as mentioned throughout my response above which apparently he cannot sufficiently control, it's a good thing that he has for some inexplicable reason chosen to remain aloof from the day-to-day fray of the comments sections.

awake said...

It is silly for you to try to hold onto this argument that Auster and Spencer conduct themselves similarly and allow their sites to be accessed with equal freedom.

Once again, you post freely at JW whereas you will never get a single word of your displayed at Austers unless of course he decides to use it.

Erich said...

awake,

"you post freely at JW whereas you will never get a single word of your displayed at Austers unless of course he decides to use it."

Yes, but we were not talking about merely posting. We were talking about posting in the context of engaging the site owner in a discussion -- since our main context was talking about how Spencer and Auster share similar faults in their conduct in debates with others, during which context you were trying to sell me the idea that Spencer conducts himself maturely in non-public email exchanges/debates with people, when I had personally experienced a rather strong and vivid dose of proof to the contrary.

In terms of the former (i.e., the issue of mere posting), your distinction between Auster and Spencer is obviously correct. In terms of the latter (i.e., the issue of posting in the context of engaging the site owner in a discussion), Spencer's conduct previously severely corrupted the quality of discussions even though they were not obstructed by the type of filter Auster sets up; while his conduct in recent months after his remarkable change in behavior vis-a-vis JW comments sections (i.e., of absconding himself from them so much, he is virtually non-existent there) has, of course, rendered any discussion one would have with him as virtually non-existent as his presence is there.

Thus your comment conflates two things that need to be kept distinct:

"It is silly for you to try to hold onto this argument that Auster and Spencer conduct themselves similarly and allow their sites to be accessed with equal freedom."

Your conflation here is accomplished by limiting your definition of "conducting themselves similarly" to the basic conduct of either --

1) allowing comments to appear without a filter of prior approval

or

2) not allowing comments to appear unless they pass that filter of prior approval.

I have already articulated my argument above that there is more involved here than the merely binary choice you wish to reduce this to. There is:

a) the engagement with the site owner in a discussion (which can range all the way from asking one question of the site owner, or making one critical observation, and then having the site owner respond; to a more extended back-and-forth between commenter and site owner)

b) the quality of the discussion between commenters and site owner: here, Spencer has conducted himself similarly as Auster whenever Auster gets involved in a debate with somebody (as I have witnessed with Auster's conduct with me and with Spencer's conduct with me as well as Spencer's conduct with the commenters I documented on Jihad Watch Watch)

c) the virtual non-existence of any discussion in recent months: when we are talking about a discussion with Person X compared with Person Z, it doesn't much matter if Person X (unlike Person Z) allows you to talk but doesn't respond to your questions or comments but just remains silent.

Ilíon said...

"Rather, the Spencer-Johnson fallout seems to have involved two otherwise sincere, intelligent mature individuals who nevertheless have a difficult time moderating their language ..."

I think you meant "the Spencer-Auster fallout"

Erich said...

Ilíon -- thanks, I didn't catch that one!