Tuesday, April 8, 2008

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Glenn Greenwald's rage against the machine

Remember when I said earlier this week that, "Glenn Greenwald might be a good blogger/collumnist, but he's not that great at social science"?

I apologize -- I was clearly in error. Replace "good" with "simplistic and Jacobin" and replace "not that great at social science" with "not aware of the concept of social science." Then that sentence hits closer to the mark.

Here's how Greenwald resonds to responded to my prior post. He first tries to rebut points I made about his methodology... but let's get to the good stuff:

I want to leave their specific claims behind and focus on what is actually important here. What really underlies the mentality of people like McArdle and Drezner are two pervasive though toxic afflictions -- a drooling, self-loving American exceptionalism, along with a self-interested refusal to acknowledge that there is anything truly wrong with our political and media establishment because they both support and are part of that establishment....

And then there is the self-absorbed motivation to defend the establishment which they support. Both of them supported the Bush administration and advocated for the invasion of Iraq. Hence, the absolute last thing they want to face -- just as is true for most of our political and media establishment -- is that the things they cheered on have spawned grave atrocities and vast destruction.

It can never be the case that there is anything profoundly wrong -- fundamentally wrong -- with the American political establishment. Why not? Because the McArdles and Drezners both support it and are part of it, and they are Good and thus can't possibly be responsible for things like "war crimes" or "torture regimes" or illegal wars of aggression. That's why the political establishment is so desperate to stay in Iraq until we "win" and to convince everyone that the public supports them again. They are desperate to wash their hands of that which they enabled so they can pretend they never did.

Wow, where to begin. Well, let's start with the obvious -- if I dispute someone's empirical support regarding hypothesis A, that does not mean I necessarily think hypothesis A is wrong. It just means that I'm unpersuaded by the evidence as presented. It is actually possible to dispute positive analysis of a topic without adopting a normative position on the same topic. This fact appears to escape Greenwald's grasp.

Second, I haven't shied away from self-criticism regarding Iraq or questions about the torture issue. I certainly have not discussed them at the same length as Greenwald, but I think that's a rather high bar for anyone to meet -- Greenwald's writing style seems to be, "why write ten words when writing a hundred words makes the point in a redundant manner?"

Third, and most important, Greenwald's rhetorical style in his column boils down to,"if you dispute anything I say, then you are objectively pro-torture." This bears more than a passing resemblance to the position rabid pro-war advocates adopted in late 2002 -- that opposition to war with Iraq rendered one objectively pro-Saddam. It was a disgusting tactic then, and it's no less disgusting that Greenwald is using it now. It makes him no better than the ideological adversaries he so despises.

I've defended Greenwald as of late, and I actually enjoyed my prior blog exchanges with him. After his latest column, however, I don't see the point of engaging with him anymore. If Greenwald is incapable of distinguishing between different streams of thought, if he is incapable of distinguishing positive analysis from normative advocacy, if he is incapable of doing anything other than indicting the "establishment" as an undifferentiated mass of lickspittle imperialists, then there's no point in debating him. As Megan put it, "Mr Greenwald's anger at the establishment power structure seems to be rapidly transmuting into anger at the non-Glenn-Greenwald power structure:"

posted by Dan on 04.08.08 at 09:28 PM


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