Monday, October 29, 2007

O'Reilly as postmodern linguistic perspectivist



I came across this video at Reason after clicking on a link to the "Drew Carey Project." Apparently Carey is a libertarian, though as a fan of his show when I was a young'un I suppose it makes sense. The interview is between O'Reilly and Jacob Sullum where Sullum advocates treating all drugs much in the same vein as alcohol. The piece takes its normal course 1) The pretense of a rational discussion is presented at the beginning. 2) O'Reilly makes a gross mischaracterization of the guest's position. 3) O'Reilly dismisses evidence that could counter his point. 4) O'Reilly calls guest a puerile and safe-for-TV name. 5) Full pitch hysteria with images of dead bodies and chaos if the world doesn't listen to Bill O'.

This is all pretty standard fr O'Reilly but notice the gross misuses of language and violations of all rules of argumentative good faith:

"You can spin data any way you want."

Okay, so lets just not use it then. Rather that collect evidence and facts to support our opinions and give our arguments a basis in reality we should rely instead on blind assertion of apriori intuition.

BO: You got[sic] 20 million alcoholics in this country, you got 0 million who are drug dependent either illegally or on prescriptions. That's 37 million Americans who have trouble because of drug dependence. Now why would you an intelligent guy want to put forth a theory that intoxicating oneself is beneficial.


Sullum doesn't actually say that. He says that other substances should be treated the way alcohol is, where personal and responsible use should be tolerated. His assertion that most people who use currently illegal substances was summarily dismissed because O'reilly doesn't like data, and when Sullum brings the work of a UCLA pharmacologist's work on the history of human search for altered consciousness O'Reilly claims that it is invalid because biologists don't agree (a statement we have to take on O'Reilly's authority apparently). This all leaves aside the fact that what Sullum is arguing for is not a theory at all but a conclusion based on evidence rather than an overarching explanation of data.

Sullum: The war on Drugs has tremendous consequences but people are reluctant to consider alternatives...

Bill O': And the alternative is do your own thing?


Gross and hysterical mischaracterization.

S: The fact that alcohol can be abused does not mean it should be illegal.

BO: IT'S ALL THE SAME THING!


How nuanced! Again over looking the fact that of his supposed 37 million people with substance problems 27 million have problems with a substance that is legal. Yet he doesn't advocate making that illegal, just blindly persisting in the same useless course of proscribing use of these substances regardless of its efficacy for no reason other than the fact that it sends what Bill and his over 70 demographic think is the right message. A socialist couldn't think up such a futile show of solidarity.

BO: (yet angrier) Pinheads like you are encouraging intoxication when its one of the worst things in our society!

Sullum: [but responsible] people are going to jail for crimes that don't hurt anyone...

BO: I don't care about that. I care about the dead guy in the street who got run over by a drunk driver!


When did Sullum ever say that drunk driving should be treated leniently? He stressed nothing more than the need to eliminate penalties for responsible users, which drunk drivers are not. But as O'Reilly says, "ITS ALL THE SAME THING" so this distinction hardly matters. This all mixed with some apocalyptic hysteria and images of death and O'Reilly has successfully administered to himself and his audience the perfect panacea to reasoned argument from the opposition.

BO: You irresponsible libertines cause such damage to this society you should be ashamed of yourself.

If one were feeling generous this might be attributed to a harmless, Bushian malapropism rather than grotesque ignorance of the difference between a libertine and a libertarian, but my spider sense tells me he knows the definition of neither and has only a vague notion of the former while being wholly oblivious to the existence of the latter. This accusation leveled by the way after Sullum went to pains to make a distinction between responsible and irresponsible use. This was entirely ignored obviously.

BO: Let me break it to you this way. Getting intoxicated is not responsible. You want to get stoned have fun. But don't get in a car and don't come near my family.


Am I taking fucking crazy pills or did O'Reilly just make Sullum's point for him after doing nothing but ignoring everything he said and screeching fatuous, platitudes. "Have fun getting stoned but don't get in a car" is exactly what Sullum was saying, but O'Reilly gets so flustered by the presence of a cogent argument that he is totally unaware that in trying to obnoxiously take up cudgels against him he took his side. The whole confrontation was apparently not over a difference of opinion. Words surely could not have meant what they were intended to mean. In one breath O'Reilly says that getting intoxicated in never responsible but then gives his sanction to private, responsible use. By what he said it is impossible to believe that he actually understood what the words coming out of his mouth meant. Either that or he is engaging in some kind of postmodern technique of discursive and multi-perspectival argumentation. If you don't know what that means, well neither do I, but it seems to make as much sense as O'Reilly's diatribe does to me, namely none. I am led only to believe that Bill O' is so flustered by the presence of vocalized, coherent thought that his cognitive abilities (limited though they be) were suppressed by some kind of animalistic fight or flight response. Now what kinds of people start lynch mobs.

2 comments:

Guilford said...

a devastating critique.

flymorgue2 said...

This is a great post that properly dissects SOP at this execrable show. Missing only a few typical O'reilley strategies: when on the ropes, appeals to popularity ("your losing the folks, here...") and worse even collapses and agrees with his opponent (on design vs. evolution, which he is utterly incapable of understanding, which I saw it with my own eyes).