The Illogic of Character Assassination

The irrationality surrounding the Berkeley City Council’s (now retracted) anti-Marine resolution gets more and more surreal.

Last week, I published a post arguing that Berkeley had “become a stage on which the untenability of liberal entitlement plays out”.

Yesterday, an anonymous commenter, ignoring the substance of my argument, scolded me as follows:

[I]t doesn’t behoove your readers or your argument to tell bald-faced lies.

Berkeley City Council did not pass a resolution “demanding that the U.S. Marine Corps shut down its recruiting center”[.] They issued a pointless resolution saying that they felt the Marines were not welcome.

Moments later, one Brian Conley claimed responsibility for this comment on twitter, where he also posted:

[I]t[‘]s too bad Leslie Carbone is a liar. They didn’t demand the closure[;] they said they weren’t welcome. very different [sic]

I encourage everyone to read the entire resolution, in all its vitriol, which is available here. Please note that what Mr. Conley misrepresents as “a link to the actual resolution” is in fact a link to the Council’s “Regular Meeting Agenda” of January 29, 2008.

The pertinent text reads:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Council of the City of Berkeley direct the City Manager to send letters to the Marine Corps Recruiting Station at 64 Shattuck Avenue and to General James T. Conway, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, advising them that the Marine recruiting office is not welcome in our city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders;

Granted, the word demand doesn’t appear here, nor does the word feel, in any of its forms.

So it seems we have a dispute over what the meaning of demand is.

The first four definitions of the transitive verb demand, from, are:

1. To ask for urgently or peremptorily: demand an investigation into the murder; demanding that he leave immediately; demanded to speak to the manager.
2. To claim as just or due: demand repayment of a loan.
3. To ask to be informed of: I demand a reason for this interruption.
4. To require as useful, just, proper, or necessary; call for: a gem that demands a fine setting.

I’ll concede that definition #3 doesn’t seem to fit. If anyone wants to offer a rational argument as to why the resolution constitutes neither a peremptory request that the Marines leave (1), nor a claim that the Marines’ departure is just or due (2), nor a call for the Marines to leave (4), please feel free to offer it here or at the original post.

Notice, though, that Mr. Conley doesn’t attempt any argument. He just reacts with the textbook character assassination of the judgmental left.

Bizarrely, though, after implying that I’ve told “bald-faced lies” (note the plural), Mr. Conley suggests that I “need to read” the resolution (or perhaps he means the Agenda). He also tweets, in an apparent reference to me:

[S]he’s a blogger[,] I guess, and seems to forego research for rhetoric.

I don’t want the hypocrisy of someone who confuses an agenda with a resolution criticizing my research to mask the underlying logical fallacy of Mr. Conley’s invective against me. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that my usage of the term demand to describe the Council’s resolution is incorrect, it is possible that such usage either constitutes a “bald-faced lie” or reflects faulty research. In other words, it could be the result of deliberate deception or unwitting sloppiness. But it can’t be both. You can’t both realize and not realize the same discrete point.

But logic is increasingly rare in public discourse.

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9 thoughts on “The Illogic of Character Assassination

  1. ThePunk, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, this is about Mr. Conley calling me a liar. But it’s also about much more than that. It’s about the meaning of words, whether they have objective definitions or simply subjective connotations. It’s about civility in discourse, about pursuing knowledge through reasoned discourse, instead of resorting to ad hominem (feminam?) attacks. It’s about judgmentalism, about attacking assumed motives and character, instead of responding to statements and actions. And it’s about responsibility, about admitting one’s errors in knowledge, in logic, and in treatment of others. By libelling me, by failing to engage on the issue, and by refusing to apologize after his errors have been pointed out, Mr. Conley has perpetuated the degeneration of discourse and the disrespect for others that coarsen modern culture and that make the pursuit of sound public policies more difficult.

  2. In the interest of full disclosure. I have conversed with Mr. Conley only over twitter, so I cannot say that I know him. He is a friend of a very good friend, but that is as far as my relationship with him extends. As for Ms. Carbone, I have had no real interaction with her aside from following her twitter updates (and her following mine @thepunk).

    In this instance, I think the distinction that needs to be made is one of intent. The Berkely city council obviously passed this resolution in an attempt to remove the Marine recruiters form their city. However (and yes, I have read the full resolution), they do not “demand” their removal and propose any repercussions of their remaining (aside from their being viewed as “unwelcome”).

    While I agree with Mr. Conley’s point that there is no demand for the legal removal of the Marine recruiter (an are in which the city council would most likely have no legal recourse), I have to agree with Ms. Carbone in that this is a thinly veiled demand for them to leave.

    My issue with this resolution is not what it states, I have come to expect these kind of things from Berkeley, but the amazingly poor use of rhetoric to promote it’s end goal.

    On it’s face the resolution is proposed due to the fact that the Marine recruiter are violating a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination (primarily against homosexuals) in the workplace for not accepting homosexuals as “applicants”. If this were the entire argument, I would understand their position and respectfully disagree with the city of Berkeley’s right to dictate the recruitment regulations of the United States Armed Forces. While I may disagree with those regulations, the United States Congress is the only body with the ability to legislate said regulations.

    Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the reason for the resolution. The repetition of the claim of engagement in “illegal, immoral and unprovoked wars of aggression” seems to me to be the real reason for the resolution. Upon reading this resolution I nearly forgot that discrimination was the root cause for this resolution.

    This is not a clear cut case for either Mr. Conley or Ms. Carbone being right or wrong (although I would disagree with Mr. Conley’s decision to brand Ms. Carbone a liar) but more an issue of interpretation.

    Let me be very clear, I have no real bone in this fight, I am not supporting/defending either side (except in the “liar” comment) because honestly, I think that both of you are in some way incorrect in your arguments.

    The resolution calls for an investigation by the City Attorney into the Cities abilities to enforce the anti-discrimination clause of the municipal code in regard to the military recruitment station. It directs the City Manager to send a letter to the stations Commandant stating that they are not welcome and if they stay they do so as “uninvited and unwelcome intruders”. And lastly, it encourages all residents of the city to avoid cooperation with the Marines and support those who protest their presence.

    Also, the resolution was rescinded almost a week ago. So really what this boils down to is Mr. Conley calling Ms. Carbone a liar. TO that I would say, @baghdadbrian, apologize and move on. While it may have been inappropriate and disrespectful, morally reprehensible may be a bit hyperbolic.

    As to what makes someone a member of the “liberal left” or the “conservative right”, who knows? Those terms have, in my humble opinion, become nothing more than rhetorical slights against people on either side of the aisle (so to speak). Based on what I have read from both Mr. Conley and Ms. Carbone, I would probably say that Mr. Conley is more liberal than not and Ms. Carbone certainly leans towards conservative, but in our current political world, even those words have become sullied.

    Really, what do those two terms (which were originally intended to describe one’s view of economic policy) really mean anymore?

  3. Zach, Spanky, Isophorone, Tessie’s Dad, and Mr. Douglas: Thank you all for your support.

    Hugh, I appreciate your taking the time to comment. But words don’t mean “something like” what you “think it’s fair to expect”. I provided four definitions of “demand” in my post on this matter, and my challenge to anyone who cares to offer a logical argument as to why they’re wrong remains open.

    UPDATE: It is disappointing, though not really surprising, that Mr. Conley has not yet found the decency to apologize for libelling me.

    On the Saturday when my original post about this episode went up, Mr. Conley wrote on twitter:

    “[I]t seems [I]’ve upset @lesliecarbone . [sic] [S]he misrepresented facts[;] either she did it intentionally as rhetoric, or as a failure of research.”

    His next tweet, three minutes later, began:

    “so she’s either a liar, or ignorant, not sure.”

    I suppose we should give Mr. Conley credit for the intellectual progress required to recognize, as I explained in the penultimate paragraph of my post, that his unfounded claims against me cannot both be true.

    But he ignores my discussion of the meaning of “demand” (the original point of dispute) and its implicit refutation of both his claims.

    And he shows no grasp at all that it is morally reprehensible to make public statements like “Leslie Carbone is a liar” when one is “not sure” of their correctitude.

    But his public statements get even stranger. He concludes his “not sure” tweet with:

    “But I’m not sure how [I] fall into the ‘liberal left’ as [I]
    don[‘]t support immediate withdrawal.”

    Laying aside the question of whether immediate troop withdrawal is a sine qua non of liberalism, the statement is bizarre because the quoted (redundant) phrase appears nowhere in my post, let alone in reference to Mr. Conley.

    It gets weirder. Several hours later, Mr. Conley tweeted:

    “hrm [sic] @lesliecarbone is still waiting for an apology from me, still considering my response, or whether its worth her time or mine.”

    I don’t know what makes Mr. Conley think he knows what I was thinking at that time, but one minute later he tweeted:

    “What I’d really like to see is a post on @lesliecarbone ‘s [sic]blog about what she imagines my positions on [I]iraq,states [sic] rights, etc[.] to be.”

    Now, I’ve never wasted a moment of my time to “imagine” what Mr. Conley thinks about these issues, and, even if I thought his ideas mattered enough, I certainly wouldn’t speculate publicly about them without statements or other evidence of opinion from him.

    After all, he’s the judgmental one who publicly issues unfounded condemnations of others, not me.

  4. Mr. Conley is right, but only in his own mind. The left believes that anything that they don’t agree with is a lie; that’s how they maintain their self-image in spite of their own logical lapses and contradictions. Since their ideology can’t withstand even the most cursory factual review, they dismiss facts as ‘lies’ and retain their worldview in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    Since they have divested themselves of such argumentative tools as truth and logic, among the few things they’re left with are name calling and whining, as well as the self-reinforcement of groupthink.

  5. Some people mistake rhetoric for principle and a sense of moral outrage for truth. I’ve had plenty of those kinds of “discussions”. Stick to your guns, maintain your calm, and remember “words mean things”.

  6. Reminds me of O’ Brother Where Art thou…

    Leslie is laying a ‘paddlin on em’.

    No, No, I think it’s more of a ‘kickin’ sensation…

    No, it’s a paddlin…



  7. i think it’s fair to expect that a council resolution that: “demands that they leave” means something like: “legally requires them to shut down offices.”

    while a resolution that says: “they are not welcome” is a symbolic gesture, with no legal implications.

    the intent behind them is the same (ie wanting them to leave), but it’s not the same thing.

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