This is a tangent from the last post that would have made it wander too far off topic.
Firstly, I referred to Tommy Robinson as both a football hooligan and a fraudster. Both claims are easily substantiated but a fair question to ask is whether they are ad-hominem arguments.
Yes, yes they are.
However, the first (football hooligan) is mentioned not primarily to discredit Robinson but to establish a key point about the nature of the UK right – it’s long connection with football and football violence. But it is also a bit of an ad-hominem in the fallacious sense but I’ll come back to that.
The second “fraudster” is also an ad hominem argument (or at least a fragment of one). However, it is not a fallacious one. When claims or a narrative are being made by a person, their established record of veracity is relevant. If an argument rests on the trustworthiness of an individual, it is valid to ask whether that person is trustworthy. In the case of Wright and others, they are promoting a version of events based on Tommy Robinson’s spin on what occurred. His past convictions are relevant.
One common feature of most of the rightwing figures I write about is their gullibility. Even the ones with a habit of dishonesty or disingenuous claims, also have a habit of believing almost anything some people tell them. I’ve talked about how this can be quite taxing on my vocabulary because there is an urge to use language that is both ableist and incorrect (e.g. ‘stupid’, ‘crazy’, ‘morons’ etc). Given their careers, the assorted Puppies and others that I write about are not people of below average intelligence, nor are they people suffering from some kind of psychological problem in a medical sense (or if they are, then it isn’t relevant and it isn’t a feature common to them as a group). Using such language is unfair both to them and also reinforces harmful stigmas.
Yet, despite this habitual gullibility, it isn’t the case that they will believe anything. So what is the best way of looking at this? The relevant term is trust. Now we all (as in everybody) use interpersonal trust as the basis for evaluating the truth of claims. We are less sceptical of claims made by people we trust. As social creatures trust is the paramount basis for considering truth in human society.
However, modernity has two impacts on that fabric of truth-as-trust. Firstly, both urban living and capitalism undermine the social fabric of trust. If you live in a modern society you encounter many people each day about whom you know nothing directly. You also buy food and services in a more abstract way – often from impersonal organisations (even more so online). Secondly, since humanity started living in urban settings, we’ve also developed more abstract concepts of truth and at assessing truth. Looked at together, there’s an inevitability there – cities require us to think more abstractly, more sceptically and more critically. The earliest cities also contain the earliest examples of written abstract mathematics for example but also the earliest examples of people shifting trust from neighbours and family to more abstract things (religions, states) or people they don’t actually know (prophets, kings).
The term “post-modernism” has been applied to so many things and described in so many ways that the term has become close to meaningless. However, we can use it to describe the broader social impact of modern, industrialised societies losing trust in those more abstract sources of truth.
One way (and as always, take this as me thinking out loud and subject to me changing my mind) to think about the modern right is as people who place greater value on the personal trust model of truth, less value on the abstract reasoning model of truth BUT who are experiencing the same broad post-modern condition of deteriorating trust in institutions. Hence the term I used in the title ‘Post-premodernism’.
Repeatedly, the pattern of argument I see in the Puppy-sphere rest on firstly identifying somebody as in-group or not and then (largely) accepting what they say uncritically as truth to the extent that it can be adopted as a shared belief. Before you say it – yes, everybody does that to some extent everywhere because it is the fundamental trust model of truth that we all have as humans. However, the difference is there is almost no critical filter at all. When a position needs to be discredited, it is done by discrediting the person. Again, yes, that is something that can happen in any community but again, in this case, that is almost the only way it occurs.
I’ve been watching Vox Day attempt to persuade others that Jordan Peterson is talking rubbish. Of course, Peterson himself has his own weird relationship with post-modernism which I don’t want to get into here. Vox himself is somebody I’m not sure fits the template above – he talks nonsense and believes wrongheaded (and evil) things but I’m not sure he is ‘gullible’ in the sense I mean. His followers though…Anyway, with Peterson Vox has tried to point out issues with his claims and tried to point out the incoherence of Peterson’s writing but the tactic he keeps returning to is that Peterson is not a Christian and not of the right. Vox’s motive and argument is to push Peterson from being seen as in-group (and hence trusted implicitly) to out-group, at which point he will be seen as talking nonsense*.
So back to Tommy Robinson. He has had numerous run ins with the law including scuffles with the police. So here’s the thing. If Robinson has hit a police officer in the past that wouldn’t actually be pertinent to the current claims or the ethics of his current behaviour. However, in terms of making people like Wright et al not BELIVE Robinson, it is highly pertinent. So there is the ethical dilemma. What is the wright kind of argument to use? the actual facts (used in the last post) or truthfully describing him as a hooligan?
*[Obviously he is actually talking nonsense]