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” (I’ve 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 it—the one way of many which, for example, The American Heritage Dictionary provides: to criticize strongly—he is over-reacting; for no reasonable person would withhold “approval” or “acceptance” of someone if all they did was to “strongly criticize” them. Thus, it’s 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 Auster’s 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 Auster’s view of true conservatism having some consanguinity with gnosticism could be said to be a “strong criticism”—but 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 “Gentlemen’s 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 Auster’s “truly odd and inexplicable behavior with regard to” whatever he might have said or done—as he does with regard to Spencer but not, he assures us, as an “attack”—, Auster likely would have had the reflex spasm of accusing me of “attacking” him.
Bottom line: The word “attack” is 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 one’s 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 language—and also a difficult time accurately reading their opponent—such 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 substance—i.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 word—here, 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 representative—not 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 “Auster’s 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 Bawer’s 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 inchoateness—its very lack of form and transparency—seems 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 decisions—on policy matters both internal and external—on 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 democratic—and 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 this—The 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 Auster’s 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 Gentleman’s 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 article—“Bawer 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 Johnson’s favor”—Auster 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 Bawer’s problematic substance, but to me it is eminently adequate to say of someone that they “come down decidedly in Charles Johnson’s 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 Johnson’s side on the “fascist” issue (which is the crux of the “evil” being imagined in Johnson’s 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 Bodissey’s 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 today’s 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 Gentlemen’s 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, doesn’t 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 supporters—and 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 critiques—even maturely and intelligently framed critiques—as “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 Auster’s response discussed.
The second odd twist is that when Auster or when I have written critiques of Spencer—maturely and intelligently framed, even if perceived to be annoyingly persistent—the Phalanx seemed to have little difficulty in publically condemning us. And yet, Bawer’s single and short publication was more egregious and far worse—by virtue of coming down decidedly in Charles Johnson’s favor against all the valiant anti-jihadists in Europe putting their lives and reputations on the line—than all my one-hundred and thirty-six Jihad Watch Watch articles critiquing Spencer’s 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.
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.